Go to camp – for writers

camping in the African bush

If you’ve ever wanted to write a book, this may be your time to give it a shot. The National Novel Writing Month organization (NaNoWriMo for short) doesn’t just take place each November — it also holds two less formal events, Camps, in April and July. In just two days’ time, you could embark on your own writing adventure.

What’s the difference, you may wonder? While the big November event requires you to start a new book and write 50,000 words of it, for the camps you can choose your own goal. You can start a new book, revise/edit an existing book, or finish a book you’ve been working on for a while. You’ll keep track of your progress however you want, by word count if you like, or perhaps by committing to writing so many hours per day, or producing a certain number of pages.

To help you achieve your goal, there are plenty of online resources, camp counselors to help struggling writers, support groups with different themes, and regional events you can attend (in November they were still all virtual, but some in-person events may start opening up). You’ll find much more information on the NaNoWriMo site.

I’ve never participated in one of the camps, so I can’t speak from personal experience. Last year I signed up for the April camp to get some words down towards a travel memoir, but just a few days later my hubby and I found out about a terminal illness in his family, and that became the focus of our lives for the ensuing two months. However, it’s my understanding that, once you’ve signed up for the camp and announced your project for the month, you can sign up for a ‘cabin’. i.e. a group of cabin-mates you hang out with and get support from. You can choose to be assigned randomly, direct your cabin choice by listing some preferences, or create a private cabin that you’ll share with whomever you invite.

There are also discussion forums on different topics, a ‘campfire’ circle general discussion group, sponsor offers, and other interesting things that can be fun BUT can also be gigantic time-wasters. Distraction is one of the greatest enemies that I’ve seen participants fall victim to in the writing groups I’ve been in so far.

Just fyi: I have no vested interest in NaNoWriMo, but I’ve found it a very valuable way to focus on a writing project, and I highly recommend it as a great opportunity to crank out that book you’ve always dreamed of.

To novice writers, I can give you one essential piece of advice: you’ll only achieve your goal if you’re serious about tackling it in the first place. You’ll have to push yourself and remain steadfast in your quest. It takes determination and fortitude to write an entire book, even without editing it as you go along. But, whether or not you complete your entire book within the 30 days, by achieving your camp goal you’ll have created a solid foundation that you can keep building on.

After becoming one of the winners of the 2020 NaNoWriMo, it took me until the end of July 2021 to complete the first draft of my first novel. Finally, on July 31st, I was able to type the words “The End”. Hot damn, I’d written an entire novel! It was a dream I’d been nourishing for well over a decade, and achieving it was exhilarating, empowering, satisfying -– so many layers of emotion. My hubby and I opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

If you stick it out, the reward for all your hard work is a powerful sense of validation. You’ll be able to say “I’ve written a book.” Not many people can do the same. Of the writers’ group I joined last November, no one else has posted that they finished theirs; I hope that they do some day so that they can experience the same joy.

If you decide to try out one of the Camps, I wish you all the best, and I hope you’ll let me know how you’re doing from time to time.



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