Camp NaNoWriMo

Posted by Derek Chamberlain on Saturday, July 20, 2013 Under: Update

Just to warn everyone, the first part of this rather long post is where I talk about the emotional roller coaster of the last couple of months and has very little to do with actual writing and a lot more to do with how life intrudes on the writer. The discussion about writing starts after the pretty red asterisks.

I’ve been silent for the last month or so, but I’ve a good excuse. I’ve actually written a couple of posts, I just haven’t gotten around to putting them up because I’ve been really, really busy. [grin] Yeah, right. I always say that, but this time it’s even truer than usual. (Is that actually a word? Truer?)

Back in April, the school I was working at got cut adrift and I was laid off. I’m not going to talk about how happy I was to walk away from that job, but I think I may actually have danced a little bit on my way out the door. I spent the next couple of months looking for work and doing a lot of writing. 

The week after I got laid off, I decided to go back to Uni to finish my degree. I found a course that I’m actually liking the look of and that might help in getting me the sort of job I want. It’s the Professional Writing and Editing BA from Curtin Uni in Western Australia. Classes started in the last week of May.

Also at the end of May and in the first week of June, several job openings appeared. I applied for all of them hoping to land one. Then, in the first week of June, my mother-in-law was hospitalised with internal organ failure, the result of an undiagnosed cancer in her liver and lungs. We were told that she would likely die within days. Family from all over Japan gathered came to pay their respects and, whether it was having her family there, or the medications, she began to improve.

For the next couple of weeks I was busy going to job interviews, and call-back interviews, and doing trial classes. At the same time I was writing tutorials for uni, working on my novel, and keeping the household up and running while my wife was in her hometown with her mother.

On the 19th, as I was leaving my last job interview, I got the message that my mother-in-law had died. Her funeral rites went for the next the next four days.

By the end of June I had been informed that I had gotten all three jobs. That’s not quite as crazy as it sounds. All of them are part-time jobs teaching in language schools, all of them on different days. I did go, however, from teaching just a couple of classes a week and spending the rest of my time writing, to teaching a dozen classes to a wide variety of ages and levels in five different locations on six different days.

Landing the jobs was great, and I’m really happy I did, but they came with a bit of stress too. I’d just returned to uni after a year and a half off and was struggling to get back into the pacing necessary to do all the readings, tutorials, and essays. I was still behind on my assessments after the chaos of June and now I was suddenly doing not one, but three new jobs.

Then, at the end of June, Mur Lafferty threw Camp NaNoWriMo into the pool at the Magic Spreadsheet Facebook group. Several people jumped all over it straight away, one of them being my friend, Ellie Shoja, who goaded me into taking the challenge. For which, many thanks Ellie. [smile]

So, yeah. That’s what a truer really busy looks like for me. Nowhere near as insane as some people’s normal lives, but demented enough if you’re thrust into it pretty suddenly.

*     *     *  

July is half gone and NaNoWriMo will be drawing to a close soon. This is the first time I’ve ever attempted any version of NaNoWriMo. I’ve heard people talk about it, of course. Someone mentioned it back in April and I asked what the point was. It seems the only point, really, is to provide some motivation to those people who are always saying, ‘I’m going to write a book someday.’ Here’s a month when you can get together with several thousand other people who also want to write a book and spend a month knocking out 50,000 words.

A lot of the commentary I heard about it was stuff to the effect that a lot of wanna-be’s write a NaNo novel and think that qualifies them to be called authors. They send that first draft off to New York or self-publish it, and are disappointed when they can’t sell it. The only benefit those authors saw in it was that it promotes the idea of writing every day, and lets people know that writing a novel is possible.

Those were all good reasons for other people to give it a go, but I didn’t need it. I already wrote every day, I had first (and second and third) drafts of two novels already done. I was already writing, on average, over 50,000 words a month anyway. I knew I could write a novel. I knew I could knock out 50,000 words in a month. I knew I could write every day. So what did I need NaNoWriMo for? Enter Mur Lafferty and Ellie Shoja. What can I say, I’m a sucker for an intelligent woman who can turn a sweet phrase.

I agreed to take the challenge and signed up to NaNoWriMo with less than a week left in June. I had assessments due at uni, I was undergoing training for one of my new jobs, and already teaching at another. (If it sounds like I’m trying to make this seem as crazy as possible, you’re right, I am. I’ve caught myself seriously questioning my sanity any number of times in the last couple of weeks.) I managed to put together about a thousand words of outlines and character bios before July 1st. That’s not quite as little as it sounds though. I’m actually writing a reboot of a story I killed back in March. I knew the basic story I wanted to tell. I knew some of the characters. I knew the milieux. (This just to prove that, while I’m crazy, I’m not yet certifiable.) I wasn’t writing completely blind.

Ellie Shoja put up a great post about her experiences with NaNo this month. She says that one of the things you shouldn’t do is start writing without a plan of some sort. I wholly agree. It’s not that writing a 50k-word novel in one month is impossible without an outline. It’s not. I’ve done it. The point is that, given the crap life can kick at you, you really ought to make things as easy on yourself as possible, and that means, if you’re writing a book or planning a lesson, that you at least put down the stepping stones that are going to get you from the beginning to the end. 

Mark Lindberg, a friend and fellow Magic Spreadsheeter who is also doing NaNo this month, wrote a post about it in which he recommends creating a cushion early on. (I prefer to think of it as a buffer, but that’s just terminology. [smile]) I think this is right up there in importance with Ellie’s ‘Be Prepared’. There are going to be days when the shit hits the fan and it all comes raining down on you, and you can’t always predict when those days will come. (See the first part of this post for an example.) Having a buffer lets you weather those days better. 

The third survival tip I’d give is, Participate in the Community. There are forums, the July NaNo has what it calls ‘cabins’ which have message boards for use by the cabin-mates. Use them. There’s nothing quite like the encouragement of a fellow writer to spur you to new heights of brilliance, or just verbosity. [grin]

That’s my ‘Half-way’ look at NaNo. What I’ve learned from the last couple of months is that being insanely busy actually helps me write more. My weekly word-count for the end of May and most of June are, on average, about twice what I was posting during April and the first weeks of May. My July numbers are about three times my April ones. That was a lot more than I expected. I was putting a lot more time into my writing in April, but, apparently, getting a lot less done. Having actual deadlines and minimum word-counts to shoot for helps me to write more. 

I’ve also learned the importance of having a small group of active supporters. The Magic Spreadsheet communities on both Facebook and Google+ are good. There’s encouragement, there’s commiseration, and there’s commentary. If I’m honest, though, there have been times when I’ve been disappointed with them. Doing Camp NaNoWriMo though, and sharing a ‘cabin’ with several other writers whom I respect, communicating with them about works in progress and what’s going on with their lives, it has been a wonderful experience for me. I’ve come to see what the whole writing-group hype is about. Thanks for this goes to everyone in the cabin, but especially to Ellie Shoja and Mark Lindberg.

I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month, but the biggest thing I’m going to take away from this experience is that a community of writers can support you, as a writer, in a way that no one else can, because they’re the only ones who understand that writing is a compulsion, an addiction, with all the highs of a great drug, and all the lows too. 

I’ve never experienced that level of support and encouragement before. My writing has been tolerated, or condescended to, or misunderstood. This is the first community of people I’ve been part of who understand that writing isn’t a hobby. It’s not a distraction from my ‘real’ job. For me, this is my job. This is what I do. I am a writer. And if I have to do other things in order to pay the bills, that doesn’t in any way detract from my prime directive: To write; to create worlds, and to people them with characters that inspire and entertain.

In : Update 

Tags: nanowrimo writing "magic spreadsheet" 
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Meet the scribbler

I'm a writer, editor, indie publisher, and dedicated Magic Spreadsheet user. Originally from Adelaide, Australia, I've been living in Japan since 1995. I've had a life-long interest in writing and in speculative fiction. My first book was published in mid-2014.
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