Becoming a Happy Camper! Camp NaNoWriMo 2014
I never went to summer camp. About the closest I ever came to camp was attending the weekly arts and crafts sessions at the town playground. If you gather a group of kids from my former home town on Long Island together who grew up during the 1970s and say the words “arts and crafts” to them, you’re almost guaranteed that someone will whip out an ashtray covered in mosaic tiles. We all made ash trays. Never mind that no one in my family smoked; ash trays. Covered in mosaic tiles. That was it.
This year, however, I’m going to camp…well, sort of! I’ll have air conditioning, no mosquitoes, and all the s’mores I can eat. I’m attending Camp NaNoWriMo 2014.
What the heck is Camp NaNoWriMo? Have you heard of the annual NaNoWriMo – National (Na) Novel (No) Writing (Wri) Month (Mo)? It’s held each November online. Folks commit to writing 50,000 words during the month of November. Groups meet locally or online, participants upload their finished creations to double check the word count, and winners get…a badge.
Before you think I’m nuts, let me explain how I got involved in NaNoWriMo. I used to scoff at the idea that cranking out 50,000 words in one month was a good idea for anyone. I insisted that I was an ‘artiste’ and that good novelists took time and paid attention to their word choices. Speed, I reasoned, wasn’t the best method of writing a novel. Novels needed to rises on their own, like yeast leavening bread dough. You can’t rush yeast, and you can’t rush novels, either.
Or so I told myself. However, it was a lie. Because my novel never got written.
I wrote my last novel in the early 1990s before embarking on my second career as a marketing manager. At that time, overwhelmed by family troubles (my dad died unexpectedly shortly before my wedding date – a very tough time in my life), deeply wounded by a writing professor who intimidated that the only way he could give me an “A” in class for my short story collection was if I became “special” friends with him (I reported the creep to the dean, and got assigned a new mentor for my final thesis project, but the emotional damage was done), and just plain worn out from commuting into Manhattan every day, I pushed aside my writing goals. I’d tinker with a short story or two, write essays and the occasional magazine piece or fan fiction, but I let my novel-writing dreams die. Or so I thought.
Then in 2008, I hired a virtual coach for one month. The coach was great. She was essentially a health coach, and so we began by writing out my goals for weight loss and fitness. But she was also a big believer in life goals. What makes you happy? was her mantra. Horseback riding and novel writing are two things that make me supremely happy, yet I had done neither for the past decade. So we added both to the list.
And the list sat.
And I turned one year older…then two years older…and then…
I was five years older, had gained even MORE weight, had not put ideas to paper for my novel, and the closest I had been to a horse in the past 15 years was giving my friend’s retired Belgian draft horse a carrot over the fence.
I was angry. At myself, more than anyone else. I had been looking at the same set of goals for five years and done NOTHING – zip, nada, nothing! – to accomplish them.
So then I stumbled over NaNoWriMo. My consulting work was slow last November, and so I reasoned I could devote an hour a day to writing. I would allow myself to write the worst novel in the history of mankind if that was what it took to churn out 50,000 words, but write I would.
Every day, I wrote about 1,500 words. Some days, I wrote 2,000 words, but never less than 1,000 words. And do you know what? At the end of November, I uploaded my awful novel. It wasn’t even finished. I’d left everyone captured in the mythical city by the evil sorceress queen and couldn’t figure out how the heck to get them out. But I’d done it. I had started writing again.
And the spell was broken. I told a writing colleague about the creepy professor, and declared him an idiot once and for all. I decided to invest in myself, to write, and to work through The Artist’s Way exercises. And soon I had the draft of a new novel which I am still working on. I Believe You remains a draft, but a viable draft, and I know that at some point, it will be reworked and published. It will take time, but it is a salable piece of fiction.
I truly believe that I owe the breaking of the spell of writer’s block, the charm cast over my life by that horrible decade when people died on me and dreams died within me, to NaNoWriMo. And so, dear friends, this July, I shall participate in the other version of the online event – CAMP NaNoWriMo!
Camp is different from the November novel-a-thon. The Camp lets you set your own goals. My goal will be to finish the draft of I Believe You. I know I have a long way to go with that book – a lot of research still needs to get done, and I have a feeling that the research will yield important new plot points I’ve missed simply because I don’t know enough about police procedures, kidnapping, and deaf children. But I am committing time to working at my craft this July.
And it’s calorie free, because the s’mores, hot dogs and sing alongs at Camp NaNoWriMo are virtual!
So will you join me? Be my bunkmate, my arts and crafts buddy? I promise I won’t make you glue mosaic tiles on an ash tray.
Unless you want to.
Learn more about Camp NaNoWriMo 2014 here.
The print version of my short story collection is now available!
Great campfire tales for your summer camp or beach reading!