If you don’t know, Camp NaNoWriMo is coming back in April. What’s this elusive camp, you ask? It’s a virtual camp for writers where we’re placed in different virtual cabins – either randomly or by choice – and we work on our writing goals. Camp activities are optional but encouraged.
What do you need before going to camp? Well, not much, really. [You don’t even need an idea, outline, or plan.] You can dive right in and write what comes to mind, which is great. If that’s how your brain works, anyway. Mine? Not so much. Over the next five days, I’ll share with you my process I take to gear up for any NaNoWriMo event – the Camps in April and July, and the main event in November.
Before you do anything else, make sure you’re actually registered for the event. (It’s free, so why not!) Signing up is simple. Go to the homepage here and register for a new account. If you’re already a member of the main NaNo event, use that login for this one. Easy peasy!
In order to be placed in a cabin, you have to have a project. You can choose anything – even “Untitled” in an “Other” genre. They’re flexible and don’t mind if you have no idea what you’re doing. [Most years, I don’t.] To add a writing project, under “My Camp NaNo,” click “My Writing Projects” and follow the instructions. For a writing goal, you can anything from 3o words to 1 million words, a wide margin of choice to say the least. This is the biggest difference between the Camp events and the traditional NaNo event in November: you can choose your own word count. Traditional word counts are 50,000 words, but don’t feel the need to conform. [My goal this year is 40,000 because that’s all I need my story to be as a novella. Also, I’m bucking tradition by working on something that’s currently in progress.]
Next, you’ll want to decide if you want to join a cabin or not. Cabins are a great way to stay motivated and accountable throughout the month. I’ve been in cabins where people aren’t chatty and nobody checked in, but the overwhelming majority of experiences are fun. There are challenges and rewards systems and check-ins. Writing can be a lonely experience, so it’s great to have a personalized group to chat with. Cabins are small-ish, with only twelve spots in each. You can swap cabins midway if you’re not feeling the vibe of your assigned cabin. Of course, you can always write solo as well. To set your cabin settings, something you’ll need to do if you want to be in a cabin or not, sign in and click “Cabin Settings” under the “Cabin” tab.
Next, you’ll want to choose your cabin preference. There are several options. [Of course, just as I was taking a snapshot of the screen, I was added to a cabin and the options are no longer visible.] You can choose to be randomly selected in a cabin – with or without meeting certain criteria such as the same genre or goal as you – or you can create your own private cabin if you know other writers you’d like to pair up with. [There is always the lone wolf option as well.]
If, after you chat with your cabin cohorts, you decide you want to bail, you can always opt out. Go back to your cabin settings page, and click where it says to opt out.
Now that you have your foundation, you’re probably itching to swap that “Untitled” title to something else, right? But if you don’t have an idea floating in your mind, what do you do?
This might be a huge letdown, but…you find an idea.
Inspiration comes from anywhere, seriously.
- My number one suggestion is simple: go for a walk. [Don’t listen to me, though. Here’s a study from Stanford.] Even if it’s crappy weather outside, walk around indoors. [If you have mobility issues, try using your mobility device, whether a walker or wheelchair or something else, to get moving and change scenery.]
- Read, read, read. Pick up a book and read. Find something you’d change – the outcome, a character, a situation, anything – and make it your own.
- Get philosophical and ask “What if…” Frequently, my books start out this way. “What if a poor boy inherits a fortune?” [Great Expectations] or “What if a neglected boy discovers he has magical powers and is famous? [Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone] You can be as silly or serious with this as you’d like.
- Start a dream log. If your dreams are anything like mine, you’ll have some good material with which to work. Write down everything you remember upon waking up, even (especially) if it doesn’t make sense. Pick out a detail that sticks out to you and expand it to create a story.
- Go to the cemetery. Okay, this might be a little morbid for some people, but it works for me. When I go to a cemetery, which is quite often, I walk around headstones and jot down the names and ages of people. I come up with elaborate, fictional backstories for each of them. Sometimes they will turn into characters with their own stories.
- If you’re really on a tight deadline and can’t come with an idea, try a plot generator or the adoptables thread in the NaNoWriMo forums.
Okay, you’re finally inspired and you have an idea in mind. Great! Take out a piece of paper (or open a new document on your computer) and write everything that comes to mind when you think about your idea.
This can be anything, including a description of a character, a setting, a scene, a snippet of dialogue, a clue, a red herring, a murder weapon, a theme, anything. Anything goes. No filter, just write. Eventually, you will exhaust all your ideas about this project if you keep going long enough. And don’t worry if you only have one or two things written. There is no right or wrong way to do a mind dump. The goal is to get everything out of your head and onto paper (or screen), so you can decide what to do with it.
I tend to do my brainstorming on paper since it activates a different part of my brain than if I were to type the notes. My pages end up being very messy with scribbles and arrows drawn between ideas to show a connection. Somehow, I’m able to read it after I’m finished and can put it into some coherent order. The goal is to create something that works for you.
You’ve done a lot of prep work already, but there’s one more thing to do before closing up shop today. It’s called your elevator pitch. [Check out this blog with a directory of information about this. I recommend starting with this post and moving down (or up) the list. This post by a different blogger has more concrete advice to get you started.]
Essentially, your elevator pitch boils down, in a sentence, just what exactly your story is about. [I think one of the most terrifying questions I’ve ever been asked is: “So, what’s your book about?” I get flustered and try to talk about all the nuances that I think make my story great, and I don’t actually get to the heart of it.]
This is your chance to find that golden nugget, that pearl, that Holy Grail of meaning within your story. Here are some questions to get you thinking: What is your story about? Why do you need to tell this particular story? Why does it compel you? What feelings do your story bring up within you? How do you want to convey those feelings to others? What actually happens in your story? What’s the conflict? [There’s always conflict.] Who tells your story and why? Who is the story about and why? [This isn’t always the same answer as the previous question. Take a look at The Great Gatsby. Nick Carroway narrated it, but it was really about Jay Gatz. There was a reason for this.] What themes do you want to explore? Who is your intended audience? What genre do you think your story fits best in?
If you’d like to leave your elevator pitches in the comments, I’d love to take a look at them – if only to get excited about the story that will unfold this coming month. Also, you can choose to comment with your Camp goal to stay accountable.
Come back tomorrow for some more tips on how to prepare for Camp NaNoWriMo!