I’m not sure how many NaNoWriMo events I’ve taken part in but it’s been a few since I started in about 2013. The lessons I’ve learnt along the way have helped me make each time better than before and I wanted to share them to help everyone, no matter your project, make the most of Camp NaNoWriMo this year. So, to celebrate the first day of Camp, I’ve put together some of the most important tips for having a great and productive month.
Cabins. I’d definitely recommend having a cabin for Camp. You don’t have to, but it’s a great way to connect with other writers and make new friends and I think it makes the Camp experience a lot more fun. I like to join a cabin by searching the message boards for a group I like the sound of and I’d recommend you do this too. You can have a chat with people before you join up to make sure you get along and you know in advance you’ve got common interests. This year I’m with a group of LGBTQA focused writers who have already been a big help for my WIP, but in other years I’ve gone with teenage girls my age and that was also fun. By joining a cabin early, you get a few weeks to chat before Camp even begins so although today is the first day of writing, I’ve already got to know everyone. You can also be assigned a cabin based on similar criteria, which is good if you get a talkative group, but there’s no guarantee anyone will be sociable.
On that note, if you are in a cabin then do your best to socialise! Everyone is there to make friends and I’ve never had anyone unpleasant in any of mine. There are even suggest icebreakers in the cabin chatroom to help you get started. Just go for it and get chatting because I’m certain you’ll be glad you did.
Projects. Make sure you pick a project you’re passionate about. You’re going to be working intensively on it for a whole month, so if the thought of that much time with your WIP already fills you with vague dread then you might want to pick something else. You know you’ve got the right one when the idea of adding that many words fills you with joy and you can’t wait to tell your future cabin mates all about it. If you have a project you want to work on but feel stuck with, you can always check out the forums on the NaNoWriMo website (your account works on both sites) and there are plenty of people willing to help. Alternatively, if you’re searching for inspiration there’s plenty to be found on the idea adoption threads.
Profiles. It’s not essential, but I always think it’s nice to fill in your Camp profile as completely as you can. You don’t have to put any of your personal details, but a little about you will help your cabin mates feel they’re talking to an actual person rather than some faceless internet denizen. There’s also space to talk about your blog or show people where your writing can be found so by neglecting it you could be unknowingly turning away potential fans. The first thing I do in every cabin is always to check out everyone’s profiles and their projects. It’s super fun to see what everyone will be working on and writing about your projects is helpful in itself. And before anyone protests, no, nobody is going to steal your ideas if you tell your cabin about them. In the nicest way possible, they’re all too busy working on their own fantastic stories to have time for yours.
Goals. You may not be a plotter but even if you prefer to charge in blind story-wise, some planning is always of use with any NaNoWriMo event. One of the great things about Camp is that your word goal is flexible. It doesn’t even have to be a word goal – you can aim for a certain time spent writing, pages done or lines. Think about your project and what would work best for you. For example, if you’re blasting the first draft then the traditional word count might suit you best, but if you’re editing then a time-based goal might be more practical.
Once you know what sort of goal you want, then it’s time to actually set one, and this is where some planning comes in handy. Take a calendar and think about when you actually can write. Cross off any days where you’re certain you won’t be able to make time. Then think about when you actually can write and how much you are likely to achieve in that time. There’s no point in setting yourself a goal of 60000 words in a month if you’re usually writing 500 a day and you’re away for a fortnight. Setting unrealistic and unattainable goals will only decrease your morale and motivation to continue. That’s not to say don’t be aspirational, but you can be aspirational and reasonable. Set a goal that works for you.
When I was about fifteen and working on my first novel-length story, I decided to set a goal of 35000 words for the Young Writers NaNoWriMo event. I’m a slow writer and I knew I couldn’t do the full 50000, but I arbitrarily decided on 35000 as a good amount. Why I still don’t know. Long story short, I did it, but it wasn’t pretty. My schoolwork went badly downhill in just a month, I was wiped out and worst of all, I ended up cutting pretty much everything I wrote that month because I’d been desperate to write anything with little thought to how relevant it actually was. To those of you who get 50000 under your belt comfortably every November this might sound pathetic, but every writer’s different and has their own pace. As long as you keep going, it doesn’t matter if you’re churning out 3000 words a day or 300.
I learnt my lesson and this year I’m aiming for a modest 10000. Ordinarily, I’d prefer a higher goal but with important exams mere weeks away I know that I can’t afford any more at this point in my life. And no, this isn’t a case of life ‘getting in the way.’ Sometimes you need to prioritise and nobody should feel ashamed or that they’re not a good enough ‘creative’ for acknowledging they have other responsibilities.
Plotting. Not everyone’s a plotter, but even just having a rudimentary idea of where you’re heading through the month will be a big help. If you don’t like having a rigid outline then keeping some index cards with scene ideas on handy can be useful for helping the words keep flowing. If like me you like having a lot of detail then you might outline using Excel but if your writing leads you down another path then don’t stress over it. Camp is for having fun and there’s nothing more fun than exploring your story.
Rules. I know, rules aren’t exactly what comes to mind when you think of fun, but it’s actually a good idea to agree on some cabin rules between everyone. You may, like my cabin, want to share snippets of your work, but make sure the writer would like feedback before giving critiques. Some cabins like to arrange times for group sprints or invent games. A bit of organisation can help everyone know what is happening and have a fun time. Overall, just remember your basic manners and it’ll be fine. Be kind and courteous to your group, be aware that some people may not be comfortable with swearing or adult content and be respectful even if you are with people of different opinions.
Camp NaNo is a brilliant opportunity to make some headway on your projects and connect with other writers so if you get the chance I’d really recommend joining in, even if you’ve never participated in a NaNo event before. It’s a great introduction to a fun and exciting event and I hope my tips will help you have a really enjoyable month.
(PS: if you take part in NaNoWriMo, send me a friend request so we can be writing buddies!)