This month I have packed up my pencils and set off online to Camp NaNoWriMo. Labelled as “an idyllic writers retreat smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life”, my friend Kit Fletcher and I are working together in our private cabin (cool girls only, of course) aptly named “Let’s Do This Sh*t”. Kit is still trying to work out if I meant “shot” or “shut”, but she’ll figure it out one day after her kids have grown up and she’s allowed to swear again.
What I love about Camp NaNoWriMo, compared to the big November NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), is that instead of failing miserably at writing a crazy 50,000 words, I can succeed at my own pitiful, self-determined and achievable writing goal.
So, what else have I put in my backpack for a month at Camp? Here are the 5 essential strategies I’ve learnt so far for making the most of Camp NaNoWriMo…
Strategy 1 – Set a Realistic Goal
When given the freedom to do so, it’s really easy to choose a massive goal and line yourself up for failure. Despite what we are often taught, you don’t have to achieve huge things when you are being creative. Often one of the most important things is to simply show up each day and do something, anything. It sets you up for good creative habits and doesn’t drain your creative well in one sitting, leaving something in the back of your mind for the next day.
I find that if I am in the habit of writing little and often, then ideas start to pop up – it is as if the writing fairies can see that I am committed, so if they give me an idea, I will be there to work on it.
I believe that it is more important for the creative soul to have a small victory, than a big failure. My goal this month is simply to write for an hour each day, on anything or anything (this blog included). Kit’s goal was to do 2 pages a day of a writing exercise she finds useful. These are not big goals, but we can fit this into our busy lives and so far, it’s working well.
It’s like going tramping – as cool as it would be to climb Mount Everest, it’s best to start by conquering the nearest hill or walking track to get your confidence, before attempting such a mammoth ascent.
Strategy 2 – Get Some Good Writing Music
Not everyone can write or work with music in the background, but for me it is essential. It entertains the part of my mind that would rather be at the beach or baking muffins, and in that regard, it helps me to concentrate and stay put – two very important things when writing!
This month’s track of choice has been A Thousand Lights on YouTube – over 2 hours of epic fantasy music, which has unfortunately now been removed. The video part of this track was a shimmering picture of the crouching knight. It was tempting to sit and stare, waiting for the moment he finally stood up, but he never did, no matter how many hours I procrastinated watching him.
Strategy 3 – Match Your Goal to Your Writing Style
The great thing about Camp NaNoWriMo is that you can set any goal you want, whether it be words, lines, pages, minutes or hours. You can utilise this flexibility to match not only your writing style, but the project you are undertaking.
If you want to create a certain quantity of work by the end of the month, then choosing words, lines or pages works best. Sometimes quantity goals can also be useful if you have a tendency to get distracted and spend half your writing time posting selfies on Instagram.
If you have a limited amount of time to allocate to writing (and no Instagram addiction), then minutes or hours will work best. This also means you can spend some of your time researching or editing, if that is a necessary component of your project.
So choose your goal to suit how you write and what you write.
Strategy 4 – It’s All About Timing
My “real” job involves working from home part-time and is technical in nature. This means I get phone calls during office hours which can interrupt my writing. Also, I find it hard to switch from my paid work to creative writing, and to make the transition I usually need a good break.
This means that writing outside office hours is best for me – either first thing in the morning or in the evening (after I’ve taken a good break from work). Weekends are even better.
But you might be very different.
I imagine writing in the morning would not be easy for parents trying to get their kids off to school. Or you may be tired or uncreative in the evening. If you already know when your best writing times are, then work to those. If you don’t, well now is your chance to find out. It will make all the difference in the world.
Strategy 5 – Take It One Day at a Time
Life happens (repeatedly) and let’s face it, it’s never conducive to writing. You may get sick. There may be a power cut. Or you might simply run out of time.
Don’t beat yourself up! There is always another day.
We are not machines, so in reality 30 straight days of consistency can be unrealistic for many of us, and that’s okay. As many bad days as there are, there are also great days.
When you find yourself 3 days behind your target, that’s okay. All you need to do today is today’s target. If you manage more to catch up, great! But if you don’t, then it doesn’t matter.
Not being a machine does not mean you are a failure, it means you are a human being.
Camp NaNoWriMo, like any good journey, is not about winning, but about the process of getting there. What did you learn about yourself and your writing on the way? Just because you did not make it all the way up the mountain, does not mean you didn’t walk many miles in trying. Focus on how much writing you got done, that you would not have otherwise done?
Besides, with Camp NaNoWriMo running in both April and July every year, there is always a next time…