This past July I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, a more lowkey version of the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge that takes place every November.
For those unfamiliar, the November NaNo challenges writers to write a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in 30 days. For a lot of writers, the deadline provides the right kind of motivation they need to finish a project. In fact, there are several published books that began as NaNoWriMo projects!
Camp NaNoWriMo follows the same format, but it’s more flexible. It takes place twice each year, in April and July. Participants are able to choose their own goals, and they’re encouraged to try some “non-traditional” NaNo projects. For example, some writers use this time to edit an existing project, write poetry, or even work on things like a graduate thesis or non-fiction.
So as I was saying, I participated in the July 2020 Camp NaNoWriMo. If you remember my Writer’s Life post from a few months ago, I spent May and June of this year re-working my outline for Project Quest in hopes that I could start working on my third (!) draft in July.
I was able to reach my goal of completing the outline – with the understanding that it could change, of course. For July, I set a goal of writing 25,000 words with the hope that doing so would get me through the first act of the novel.
So how did I do?
At first, things were pretty smooth sailing. I had already written two scenes that I wanted to use for the story, so I spent the first day fleshing them out and making them fit a little better with what I had outlined. That amounted to about 4,000 words, so I had a good head start.
After that… well, I’ll let the graphs speak for themselves.
The good news: I met my goal by the end of the month! Not only did I write 25,000 words, but I also got through the first act (and then some).
The less-good news: this was definitely my most inconsistent writing challenge yet. I usually pride myself on being able to space my writing out in daily chunks so that I don’t have to rush to catch up later on. Even if I didn’t write every day, I still did it more often than not.
This year, that wasn’t the case. For comparison’s sake, here’s the graph from another Camp NaNoWriMo project I did in 2018, which had a similar word goal:
The word-count progress graph from my 2018 Camp NaNoWriMo project, which I had titled “Summertime.” My progress was much more steady with that project.
This time around, my progress happened in more “bursts” than steady growth. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – in fact, that works well for plenty of writers – but it was definitely out of the norm for me.
Part of the reason my writing looked so different this year though was that there were a lot of different obstacles – some expected and some not – that I faced during the month.
One challenge I faced was routine (or lack thereof). Thanks to being unemployed and living through a pandemic, sticking to any kind of consistent schedule was just completely out the window this year.
Now, since I didn’t have very many other commitments (more on that in a minute), I should’ve had all the free time in the world and met my goal easily. The thing is, I need a schedule to structure my time around. My past NaNo challenges all took place while I was either in school or working full-time. Yes, I had less time to write because of that, but that made it much more important for me to make time for writing.
That being said, there were also some other things going on that made me a little busier than I anticipated. I participated in a local service project with my church for one week. Even though I was home every night, I was usually pretty exhausted from the day’s work and didn’t have much strength for writing. I also dogsat for some church friends for a week. Oh, and I and visited with some family, spent a day helping my friends move, and did a 5K (on an elliptical, which I know isn’t the same thing, but I gotta work with what I’ve got).
Did I mention the part about me getting a job and trying to find a place to live?
I’ll probably go into more details when I write my July + August Month in Review post… but long story short, I was hired to work at my alma mater! My official start date was August 17, so as you can imagine, I spent a lot of time these past few weeks completing paperwork and looking for an apartment. Fortunately, everything worked out in good time, but it still kept me plenty busy!
But even with all of that happening, my biggest obstacle was probably just being distracted. I started two new TV series, read four books, worked on some new custom Funko Pop figures, read more Webtoon chapters than I care to admit (at least 300), and started playing Celeste again.
None of those are totally bad things! They did keep me from my writing though, and I only have myself to blame for that. It seems I forgot all about time management as soon as I finished school…
Alright, so I met my writing goals and all that, but what did I learn from this experience?
1) Fight scenes are hard (and so are settings)
In general, I just struggle with visualizing scenes. Things like facial expressions or small movements are fine, but when it comes to how characters interact with each other in a space, I’m easily lost. Part of it is because I have what we writers call “white room syndrome” – in other words, I usually forget to describe settings, and I usually only have a vague idea of them myself. Naturally, this means I also have a hard time putting characters in that space and imagine how they interact with their surroundings.
This is what most of my scenes look like if I’m not careful…
I’m trying to be better about this though! There were a few places where I was tempted to just say “I’ll fix this later,” but I pushed through and made myself jot down at least something about the action. These are places that I’ll probably need to really work at later, but it’s better than a blank page!
2) I can work with an outline without sacrificing flexibility
I was a little nervous about using a chapter-by-chapter outline, since the last time I did that I got so frustrated and abandoned it in the middle of the project. This time, however, having more structure made things a lot easier. I gave myself enough information that I always knew what the next step was, but there was still some wiggle room. For example, I decided to cut one unnecessary chapter and write a different, more exciting one instead.
This is part of the outline I was working from, but I also knew I could adapt it if I needed to.
3) Sometimes it’s best to walk away
I don’t mean from the whole project (that is necessary sometimes, but that’s a different problem). There were a couple of times during Camp NaNo that I would be really struggling with a scene. Normally I would force myself to keep going even if the words were garbage, but this time, I took that as a sign I needed to step back for a minute. Usually after a break to read or just chill without having to feel productive, I was ready to return to the story.