Many have heard of the challenge undertaken by ambitious writers in November: write an entire novel (50,000 words at least) in one month. The annual event has been held every November since 2000, and has grown to over 400,000 participants annually. Writers post their progress online and interact with fellow writers. Less than ten percent actually complete the challenge, but it still promotes creativity, love for the written word, and a motivating online community.
Many are unaware, however, that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, the official name of the event) also hosts an annual event in April: Camp NaNoWriMo. This event, which also spans 30 days, simulates a writing camp environment.
When signing up, participants take a brief survey about the type of project that they wish to work on for the month. Information such as genre of the project and its length are especially taken into account. Then, the website assigns you to a “cabin” with participants that have projects similar to yours or projects that you have expressed interest in. The cabin functions as a writing cohort for the month. You report your progress to each other and encourage each other through rough patches. Of course, if you have several friends who also wish to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, you can create your own cabin.
In addition to creating a micro-community for the participant, the April challenge also allows participants to choose their own goal. One might wish to write 30,000 words instead of 50,000. Or maybe someone is feeling extra ambitious and wants to write 75,000 words. Or maybe someone’s project is in desperate need of rewrites. Camp NaNoWriMo lends more flexibility to the writer than the original challenge in November. This challenge is supposed to be a more carefree alternative.
I have seen a variety of projects worked on for Camp NaNoWriMo. Many MFA students use this as a blitz of writing to establish their creative thesis. I know several alumni who are participating in order to round out or supplement their thesis. Others use the April challenge as a trial run for the more daunting November challenge. I’ve also seen others use Camp NaNoWriMo to develop derivative works, such as fan fiction or metafiction.
As for myself, I plan to use Camp NaNoWriMo to begin an entirely new work of fiction. For years I have been confined by the need to finish my thesis and graduate. Because of the pressure to finish and my own mental battles, I found that I wasn’t producing work that I felt reflected my best efforts. In these past few years, writing and reading were not enjoyable to me, and it showed in everything I produced.
Now that my thesis has been finished (yay!) I have tentatively begun reading for pleasure again. I’ve had a few false starts with a couple of novels, but I have finally found one that consistently keeps my attention. I’m only 60 pages in, but I can already feel that once familiar pull of intrigue that used to keep me up all night, turning pages. It’s like falling in love all over again. I’m still scared that it won’t last, that I’ll once again fall into apathy and distrust for every scrap of fiction I come across. But a bigger part of me is excited that the passion for books that has been a defining piece of my identity is slowly coming back into existence.
The next step is finding that love in writing again, and that’s what I hope Camp NaNoWriMo does for me. I’m starting small at roughly 333 words a day, which would put me at 10,000 words written in total by the time the month is up. It’s a manageable goal, but the end result is still nothing to sneeze at. At 10,000 words I hope to have a strong exposition for an entirely new work. A work bound by nothing but my own imagination – no grades or degrees attached.
I’m incredibly excited to begin this journey, and I encourage you to consider signing up at www.campnanowrimo.org if you’ve ever had a writing project that you were too scared to start or too discouraged to finish. The community will encourage you, the goals will motivate you, and your own hard work will inspire you.