Rules? What rules? Making Camp NaNoWriMo work for me

A baby writer tries NaNo

My first NaNoWriMo attempt was back in 2001 (that’s not a typo). NaNoWriMo was only three years old at the time and I was in my first year of trying to write for publication. I hadn’t written fiction since high school and I’d never attempted a novel. They were huge, intimidating beasts to me and I figured I needed a big push to even try writing one.

I technically “won” that year by writing 50,000 words in November, but the words I wrote were definitely not a novel. It didn’t even have a noticeable plot. I tried again a few more times over the years, but by 2012 I was over the whole thing.

Lessons learned from more writing experience

I’ve learned two important things about my own writing process since then: (1) word count goals don’t work for me because I spend more time focusing on the word count than what the story needed and (2) I hate writing sloppy first drafts. Both of those things fly in the face of conventional NaNo advice, which encourages you to write as much and as fast as you can and fix it later. For me, later never came. I never got around to revising those drafts because I really hate rewriting. I’d rather edit as I go, write the cleanest draft I can, then move on to the next project.

But I still like the energy and the camaraderie of NaNoWriMo, and I’ve learned to take what works for me and leave the rest. That gave me the confidence to revisit their website after ten years of avoiding it.

Trying NaNo again, but on my own terms

This month, I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo (their off-season NaNo event, which is more relaxed than the annual November frenzy), but I’m tracking my writing minutes instead of the word count. That way, I can take advantage of the things that motivate me on their site and ignore the rest.

Many writers and other creative people look for “rules” to guide them, especially at the beginning. I was no exception, but after a while we need to view those “rules” as mere suggestions instead, especially when it comes to the creative process. Every person is different, and that means we each have to cobble together something that works specifically for us.

I think I’ve found the way I work best, at least when it comes to NaNo. I have two projects (a novella and a short story) that I want to finish this month, and I hope participating in Camp NaNo will help me get there.