I know it’s April 4th, and that Camp NaNo began a few days ago. But…. whatever. I’m not worried about beginning on time or how many words I write this month. All I know is that I have so many deadlines looming, I have to write every single day. So I’m jumping into the Camp NaNo world but I’m not going to stress about my daily word count. I already know what I have to do to meet my deadlines.

Since I do have so many words to write, I’m going to structure April with Camp NaNo in mind. Meaning, I’m going to work with the same kind of mindset that I have during NaNoWriMo in November. To do that, I need to make sure that I’m taking care of myself and have set in place ways to care for my family as I try to meet my goals. One of the reasons I’m late to Camp NaNo is that I had a huge deadline last week and then had to finish my taxes. But with those two things done, I’m ready to move on.

Before I move on… let me explain what Camp Nano is about. It’s a month-long virtual writing retreat. Pretend you are hidden away in a cabin in a beautiful location (beach, mountains, etc) and all you have to do is write. You can join virtual cabins with friends who help keep you accountable. Before Covid, there were actual in-person writing retreats. But, for now, they are virtual as well. You can write whatever you want this month–a novel, short story, script, or finish your dissertation. The entire point of joining this community and expressing your goals publicly is to encourage you to write. The world is in a desperate place and needs all of our stories. But writing 50,000 words (which is the standard goal) is hard work. So, below, I’ve laid out my favorite tips that have helped me in the past to have a successful Camp Nano. And I hope they help you too!

Tips for a Successful Camp Nano

The first thing you need to do is choose your project and your writing goals and then head over to the NaNo website. Once there, you can add your project to your account (or make a new account and add your project) and let the world know what you are working on for the rest of the April.

You will still have a life in between all the writing you hope to do. And since the greatest ideas often come while you’re driving or grocery shopping, bring a notebook everywhere. That way when those ideas pop up, you can jot them down quickly so you won’t forget. A notebook is also great for those times when you’re waiting for an appointment (I’m looking at you, DMV!) or stuck in a Kiss & Ride line. This way you’ll never miss another great plot twist again.

Let your family know about your project and your word count goals. They may or may not be supportive, but if you let them know you can begin to set some boundaries about your defined writing time and family time. That way everyone knows what to expect when it comes to your time and attention.

Choosing a time, each day, that you’re going to write sets you up for success. It also helps get your family on board if they know that not only do you want to finish a project but that you have a defined plan–with specific times–to get it done. Boundaries really help you and your family set expectations for the month.

You don’t have to write 50,000 words. You can write as many or as few words as you want. Although 50K is the standard that Camp NaNo sets, they are not in charge of you! Look at your project, and your available time during the month, and set a realistic goal. A few words are better than no words. And remember that famous line…”you can’t edit a blank page.”

Camp NaNo can be hard on the ego and the muse. So instead of just thinking about the looming word count goal, choose smaller word count goals for the week, or decide on different goals. The whole point of Camp NaNo is to train yourself to build a writing habit. So maybe set a weekly goal of sitting at your desk every day for 30 minutes. Or another goal could be to spend some “thinking time” every day with your characters. It doesn’t matter what the goal is, as long as it helps you move forward with your writing–whether it be actual word count or just building new habits.

In Camp NaNo, you can set up virtual cabins with friends. Then you can decide on dates and times to do writing sprints for however long you want. My friends and I tend to do 45 minute sprints, but others prefer 25 minute sprints (like the Pomodoro Method). Regardless of the time you write, or for how long, it’s always so much more fun to do it with friends.

Before beginning a big project, it’s always nice to have a clean desk and surroundings. So a few days before I begin a NaNo project, I take the time to clean out my desk, wipe down my screen, dust around my computer, pick up books, journals, notes, etc. I even decide which notebook I’m going to use and sometimes I’ll set up a calendar so I know exactly what my family and other obligations are so I know when I can write.

Check out the NaNoWriMo website for more details. The website has dates and times for virtual writing events, discussions with authors and other publishing professionals, and events with lots of emotional advice. There are “camp counselors” who run these events, and you’re welcome to reach out to them at anytime if you need help.

Writing for hours is hard on the body and the mind. So before I sit down, I do a few things to set myself up for success. First, I make sure I have my favorite healthy snacks, tea blends, coffee, and even water enhancers because it’s very easy to get dehydrated while you write. I also take a day before Camp NaNo begins to buy and organize my office supplies. Sometimes new markers, post-it notes, index cards, etc. can really help set the creative mood for a new project. I also purchase a few small gifts for myself that I can only open when I hit my weekly goals, regardless if they are word count goals or other habit-forming goals like I mentioned above.

Before you begin, decide on how you want to celebrate at the end of the month. For me, I always make a dinner reservation for myself and my husband at my favorite (and inexpensive) restaurant. I have friends who meet for a celebratory lunch, and others who buy themselves something special. But choosing it at the beginning so you have something to look forward to can be so motivating when you’re stuck in the middle of the month with a bunch of messy scenes. Visualizing yourself at the end of the month, doing something you can look forward to, may just get you out of that messy middle.

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