Camp NaNo: Biting the Bullet

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in possession of an internet connection must be in want of a challenge.”

Or, translated: a writer in possession of Netflix must be in need of motivation.  Badly.

Cue ‘NaNoWriMo’, an online challenge in which participants type, scribble, sweat (and often vlog) their way towards a minimum goal of 50,000 words by the end of November.  And cue also Camp NaNoWriMo, NaNo’s quieter, less needy cousin.

A more laid-back version of NaNoWriMo, Camp Nano encourages participants to set themselves a minimum word count goal (of 10,000 words or more) in April, and get to writing.  The idea is that committing to a word count goal by a set deadline forces flagging writers to turn off Netflix/Facebook, sit their butts in the chair, and actually write.  No excuses; no procrastination.  Just a month of getting words on the page.

For those of us who find the NaNo goal of 50k a little daunting, or have other commitments later in the year, April’s Camp NaNo presents a less full-on alternative.  Its flexible word goal gives newbie the participants the chance to ‘trial run’ the challenge before November, rather than charging headlong into the more intense 50k.  At the same time, the community-challenge aspect helps to ensure that personal targets are met, and dedicated participants walk away with words in the bank.

As always, I am a little cynical.  I’ve avoided NaNo for years on that basis: however, after learning about Camp NaNo, I’ve decided to take the plunge and put that cynicism to the test.  Therefore, in three days’ time, I will join thousands of other writers in sitting in front of my keyboard, blinking nervously for a minute, and then beginning to type.  First tentatively; then, as the words begin to flow, with increasing speed.  Soon, I will be writing furiously.

Speed Typing

My fingers will blur; smoke and finally flames will blossom from my keyboard, whilst my Word processor tries desperately to keep up with the sheer intensity of my writing.  Inspiration will flow from my fingertips into the keys in a flood of pure, unedited creativity.  The Muse herself will quake with–

–…Hm.  That’s odd.  I’m stuck.

Wait What

Okay, so I may have gotten slightly ahead of myself there.

More likely: I’ll blink at the page, look around desperately for some sort of distraction, and, finding none, swipe back to my document.  I’ll change the font a couple of times, stop to scribble a note or look up a reference image.  Then, remembering that I actually like writing, I will tap out a first line.  Immediately discard it.  Try again.  Damn, that’s worse than the first one.  Head in hands, bemoan the fact that I am not Harper Lee or Dorothy Dunnett, and devastating prose does not in fact spring perfectly from my fingertips.   Sip tea.  Re-write the first line again before finally settling back on my first attempt.  Rinse.  Repeat.

And at some point, the inevitable necessity of hitting my word count goal will kick in and prompt me to discard that inner editor — the tiny voice that hated my first line — and just write.  

That’s what Camp NaNo is supposed to do: force you to turn off the inner critic that stifles your productivity, and just let yourself create.  Worry about awkward adverbs and stilted dialogue after you have all the words down, rather than driving yourself insane on a five-hour quest to craft the perfect opening paragraph.

Again, sounds good.  As someone who constantly struggles with perfectionism (and the lack of it in my writing), that Inner-Critic-Off-Switch is exactly what I need.  Like anyone else, however, I have my doubts about the November challenge.  With that in mind, I’ve compiled a short list of Pros and Cons for Camp Nano as compared to the full NaNoWriMo challenge, and few reasons why Camp NaNo may be more beneficial for newer writers.


Pro: Flexible Word Goals

NaNoWriMo’s premise is simple: you must write original words, and you must write 50,000 of them before the month is up.  You ‘win’ when you hit 50k.

The strict 50k+ word count, whilst undoubtedly motivational, leaves me wondering about its actual effectiveness.  For some writers, 1,667 words per day for a month will be an easily attainable target.  For others, however, the word count is at best a challenge; at worst, it’s outright daunting.

Of course the clue is in the name — National Novel Writing Month is designed to motivate writers to make real progress with their novel, as opposed to the more general challenge of ‘writing a few thousand words.’  A quick skim through many of the vlogs and blog posts being uploaded around NaNo time reveals, however, that for many newer writers the November challenge is simply an opportunity to grow: to build daily writing habits and overcome that initial first draft anxiety in a supportive community space.

Unfortunately, in the race to reach 50k, this aspect of the challenge can fall by the wayside.  Rather than focusing on development and experimentation, the focus is firmly on quantity: spending a day slaving over a chapter may be the best thing for your writing, but it won’t swell the word count.  The impetus to keep pushing forward through a draft, turning off that inner critic, is a valuable one: in my opinion, however, it’s also important to allow breathing space.  Developing writers shouldn’t feel like they’ve ‘failed’ if they fall behind word count by going back to improve an earlier chapter, or by backtracking and deleting unnecessary material.  Word count progress is not necessarily progress, in its truest sense.  Yet for some writers, it seems that hitting that 50k is all that matters.

Which rather misses the point of NaNo.  NaNoWriMo is not just about writing a lot in a short time: it’s about learning to write confidently and regularly, and overcoming internal barriers to your writing.  Having 50,000 words of your novel is not the same as having 50,000 useful words.  And that’s where Camp NaNo comes in.

By allowing writers to set their own word count goals, Camp NaNo removes a little of that ‘pressure to fill’.  Rather than struggling to meet a demanding target and potentially failing, or coming away feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, there is a clear benefit to newer writers being able to set their own standards of success.  Lower word counts allow writers to build good writing habits, without sacrificing quality and growth to meet someone else’s target.

In essence, Camp NaNo lets writers prioritise.


Con: Flexible Word Goals

Of course, setting your own targets comes with a risk: they are your standards.  Part of NaNo’s attraction is its demand that writers raise their standards to meet the set goal, which leaves little scope for laziness or underachieving.  The word count is supposed to be challenging — after all, the goal is (usually) to complete a large chunk of your novel.  By contrast, Camp NaNo lets writers ‘get away’ with more.  In theory, I could set a target of 10,000 words and call it an easy win.  That’s about three-hundred and twenty words a day, and pretty easily attainable (for me).  Whether that defeats the purpose of the challenge is a matter for my own artistic conscience (and my artistic conscience is not known for its steadfast motivation).

On the flip side: that’s life.  In reality, there is never anyone sitting beside your desk keeping a tally of your words.  Writing, like any artistic pursuit, fundamentally comes down to self-motivation.  Successful writers are those who set themselves high standards and hold themselves to those standards, even when no one else does.

As a writer, I have to get good at doing just that.  Having a daily word count to meet will motivate me to write consistently and to hold myself accountable, but I have to be willing to maintain that accountability after Camp NaNo ends.  During April, I have to be willing to honestly assess myself, and set myself a target that I can be proud of once the month is over.  Otherwise it won’t feel like a true success.

And of course, there’s no requirement that Camp NaNo be a challenge in the first place.  Many writers use it simply as a fun and friendly way of injecting a little consistency into their daily writing, or building better writing habits without the pressure of a 50k goal looming above their heads.  And that’s completely fine.  Nobody said it was a competition.

Like anything else, you get out what you put in.

You Win You Lose
Win or Lose: you set the bar.

Pro: Constructive Deadline

Like many writers, I sometimes suffer from creative paralysis.  That small, nagging voice of doubt leaves me staring at the screen, unwilling to begin for fear of falling short of my own high standards.

Of course, when I let that happen, I’ve failed before I’ve even started.  Which is still failing, except this way, that blank page hasn’t gone away.  It’s still there, quietly daring me to fill it.

Without a deadline, it can be easy to get up and walk away.  To tell yourself that you’ll come back later, when that insidious little voice has gotten bored and gone elsewhere.  The issue with that is that the voice rarely goes away, and a blank page only gets harder to fill over time.

Enter Camp NaNo, with its daily word count.  Okay, I can tell that voice.  Whatever.  Maybe they’re not good words.  In fact, maybe they’re terrible.  The worst words ever written.  

But I still have to write them.  

Bad words are better than no words.  One of the central tenets of writing, and of NaNoWriMo in particular.  For me, this is one of the biggest draws of NaNoWriMo, and it applies no less to Camp Nano.  In this sense, Camp NaNo provides the same productivity kick as NaNo, but with a little more wiggle room for less confident writers who are put off by the high NaNo word count target.

Quit Procrastinating
Batman meets his daily word count. Be like Batman.

Con: Differing Standards

One of the benefits of NaNo is the shared end goal.

There’s something motivational about being part of an online community filled with writers who are all struggling to meet exactly the same goal.  Even difficult tasks seem less daunting when you’re all in this together! 

we're all in this together
…I have no excuse for this.

(Besides, it’s harder to procrastinate a task when you know thousands of others are actively completing it.  Gah, the guilt!)

By contrast, Camp NaNo seems to be a little more casual, and so it may be harder to find a community of people who treat the challenge with the same level of seriousness (or lack thereof) as yourself.  Of course, plenty of people complete NaNoWriMo without ever talking to another participant, so how much of a drawback this is really depends on your sociability.

Antisocial Reader.jpg
I suspect this won’t be an issue for me.

Pro: Goodies… Uh, Prizes

Winning NaNoWriMo brings with it an assortment of prizes, from Scrivener discounts to T-shirts (and, of course, bragging rights).  Similarly, winners of Camp Nano also get discounted offers for programs like Scrivener and Ulysses.  (For a full list, see their site, linked below).

Am I willing to commit to writing consistently every day for a month for the sense of accomplishment, and its own inherent rewards? Yes.

Am I also willing to do it for discounted prize offers? Heck yes.

The Goodies
Points if you get the reference.

Pro: Pressure Off

Without pre-planning, it can be easy to lose track of where you’re going.  Add to that a requirement to keep moving forward, no matter what, and it may be that aspects of the story start to make less and less sense.

Which is fine: writing doesn’t have to make sense.  But if you’ve hit the halfway point with a victorious cheer of, “Where was I going with this again?, pushing on may not necessarily be the best choice.

Again, it comes down to constructive writing versus writing just to write.  An artist, challenged to create thirty-one pieces in a month, could blindfold themselves and slop red paint onto a canvas every day for the last two weeks and come out having technically achieved their target. Which is great, if their dream is to create great art in the form of red paint sloshes.

Jackson Pollock.jpg
If it worked for Jackson Pollock…

But if their dream is to create stunning watercolours, those two weeks of paint-flinging may not help them too much in the long run.

The same applies to writing.  If your goal is to improve productivity, NaNoWriMo seems like an interesting way to do just that.  If, like me, you want to get into the habit of writing consistently and well, the 50k target may end up as more of a hindrance.  It all comes down to the individual.

Camp NaNo seems to offer a good compromise: before tackling the full November challenge, it’s a chance to try your hand at committing to a goal without quite the same level of pressure, even if you set yourself a target of 50k.  It’s also an opportunity to work out any kinks in the writing/planning process ahead of November, to avoid any unfortunate, plot-stifling surprises later.  And if you need to lower (or raise) your target word count to allow yourself time to make the most of the writing experience, you can do so without fear of ‘failing’ the entire challenge.


Conclusion:

Well, it’s worth a shot.

Obviously, NaNoWriMo isn’t designed to be a perfect solution for everyone.  Whether you find it useful depends entirely on how you work best, and where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

For me, those weaknesses are self-doubt and inconsistency.  So Camp NaNoWriMo, as the more casual child of NaNoWriMo, may be perfect for me.

With that in mind, I’ve set myself a target of 20,000 words in April, which works out to about 666 words per day.  (Heh. Guess why I chose it.)

Futurama Devil Two
Technically it’s 667.  But this image was too good to pass up.

And since I’m stubborn and competitive, I’m setting a sneaky side-goal: I want to beat that number.  Significantly.

Which is one of the benefits of Camp NaNoWriMo: I can set that personal challenge alongside my strict word count, without shooting that number up into the stratosphere.

That way, when I (hopefully!) hit it, I’ll know it’s not just because I had to to avoid failing the challenge.  I’ll have done it because I wanted to.  In a way, I think that’s an equally valuable lesson.  *Cue inspirational music*

And if this turns out to be beneficial, I will happily accept the 50k challenge later this year.  Who knows — it might be the start of something great.

If nothing else, at least it will force me to sit my butt down and get stuck into my first draft.

Tomorrow I will stop procrastinating
Or… You know…

For during-and-after NaNo thoughts, you can read my Camp NaNo blog here

Links:

NaNoWriMo Homepage (‘Write a novel in a month!’)

Camp NaNoWriMo Homepage (‘Complete a writing project!’)

 

 

 

 

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