Camp NaNoWriMo

Elizabeth Ducie

This week, CWC member, Elizabeth Ducie, reflects on her first attempt at Camp NaNoWriMo, which she completed in April.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. In November each year, thousands of writers all over the world challenge themselves to write 50K words in 30 days. It’s an exercise in creativity; a time when quantity is very definitely more important than quality. Originally, as the name suggests, the only permissible project was to write the first draft of a novel; and officially that’s still the case. These days, many people take a much more flexible approach. After all, no-one’s checking on what you do, so making up your own rules seems quite logical. I’m a very definite NaNo rebel.

NaNo LogoI attempted my first NaNoWriMo in 2007, and completed a grand total of 6K words before real life got in the way; I still had a day job at the time and was travelling all over the world. My next attempt, in 2012, was slightly more successful; I managed more than 18K that time, before Mother Nature intervened and the winter storms flooded our house and gave me other things to think about.

In 2013, I wrote 50,022 words and stopped; mission accomplished. And every year since, I’ve ‘won’: seven years of targets hit, four novels published and a whole load of short stories and non-fiction on file for future use. And with a seven year winning streak, chances are I’ll be back at the keyboard this November. The longer the chain, the harder it becomes to break it.

I had been aware for some time that the NaNoWriMo organisers also ran writing challenges at other times of the year, but had never been tempted, until now. Camp NaNoWriMo runs throughout April and July and offers participants the chance to do something new with their writing. They can set their own writing goal (not locked into 50,000 words!), and can work on any writing project, novel or not.

The novel I’d started last November was languishing on my computer and I needed a boost to get started again. So I thought I’d have a go at the April Camp. I set my own target at 20K words (which I estimated to be what was needed to finish the first draft) plus a first pass at editing. The site offered all the usual tracking tools and graphs that so appeal to this former scientist.

And how did I get on? Well, I finished the first draft. And I did the first edit. So from that point of view, it was a success.

But I found my estimate of 20K was too high. The novel is a cosy murder mystery and will be much shorter than my longer thrillers. But if I stopped writing, my chain would be broken. I would have a loss instead of a win. At which point the numbers and the graphs started being more important that the words! I tried reducing the target, but the site wouldn’t allow me to cheat. And I ended up writing other stuff, just to hit my target, when I should have been spending my time working on editing the novel.

A 50K target in November is clear. Like many other participants, I use the month to write a huge chunk of a new book each time. I enjoy the whole process and it’s a regular part of my writing cycle. But as for a challenge where I have to set my own targets, and I’m essentially working on my own, I couldn’t see the point and in the end, it was counter-productive for me. I will be sticking to November challenges in future.

But I realise this is very much a personal point of view. I’d be interested in hearing from other writers who’ve used this challenge more effectively than me.”

Elizabeth Ducie

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