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Camp Care Package/July 2017

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This page contains the Camp Care Packages from Camp NaNoWriMo July 2017.

July 2017's Camp Counselors were Sona Charaipotra, Maurene Goo, Alexandra Duncan, Amanda Lovelace, and Patrice Caldwell.

The July 2017 care packages included optional writing prompts from NaNoWriMo HQ, which are included here.

Sona Charaipotra

Sona Charaipotra was Camp Counselor for the week preceding July 2016. Author bio included in the care packages:

Sona Charaipotra is not a doctor—much to her parents' chagrin. They were really hoping she'd grow up to take over their pediatrics practice one day. Instead, she became a writer, working first as a celebrity reporter at People and (the dearly departed) TeenPeople magazines, and contributing to publications from the New York Times to TeenVogue. These days, she spends a lot of time poking plot holes in her favorite teen TV shows—for work, of course. She's the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book packaging company with a decidedly diverse bent, and the co-author of the YA dance dramas Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces. She's also proud to serve as the head of content for the non-profit We Need Diverse Books.

26 June 2017

There are two kinds of writers (and people, I'd say) in this world: plotters and pantsers. And for either type, crossing over to the other side is the stuff of nightmares.

When it comes to tackling a big, fast drafting project for something like Camp, though, even the most die-hard pantser could learn a trick or two from us outlining Jedi. Luckily, as a screenwriter-turned-novelist (and back again!), I'm definitely a plot devotee. I've even managed to convert a pantser or ten in my time. This week I'll be giving you some smart—and painless—tips to get you grounded on plot before you kick off your Camp NaNoWriMo adventure.

The first is simply this: Don't be afraid to try something new. (Camp is supposed to be a time of exploration, after all!) If you're a pantser who's never made an outline before, I'll talk you through it this week. And if you're a fellow outline aficionado, just remember: nothing is set in stone yet. If a rogue idea sweeps you up during the process, don't be afraid to run with it.

Today's prep challenge: Make a writing date with yourself for Saturday. July 1 is going to be here before you know it, and being intentional about making time for your writing is a huge part of starting your project off right. Section off an hour, half an hour—whatever will work for you—and set a reminder so you don't forget.

27 June 2017

When you're working on a story outline, start off with your elevator pitch. This is a pithy one-liner that should explain the meat of your story in a single sentence. The idea is to sell the reader on the story with the five basics: who, what, where, when, and especially why. But in the process, you're also selling yourself on the story, and ensuring that, you know, there will be some semblance of plot involved! Because plot is helpful.

Once you've got the five major elements of your pitch down, you'll be able to see if your project is sustainable for the format you intend it to take—whether that's a short story, screenplay, novel, or other medium. Commit to the format that works best for your project and plan out how you're going to flesh it out.

Today's prep challenge: Write your elevator pitch and share it with someone else—be it a friend, family member, or fellow cabin mate. See if they can tell you (with nothing but the pitch to go on) what the "who, what, where, when, and why" of your story are. If one of these aspects is unclear, examine your outline. Is it your pitch that needs tightening up? Or is it your story?

28 June 2017

When you begin to plan, start small! Then let it snowball. I admit, my longest outline was a hefty 40-plus pages. But you don't have to go that far to get yourself on the road to a happy, fulfilling Camp NaNo experience. Even a skeleton outline will do as long as it keeps the story going. Here's what I do to get moving:

  1. Start with your single sentence elevator pitch.
  2. Expand that one sentence into three: beginning, middle, end.
  3. Expand those three sentences into three paragraphs for beginning, middle, and end, adding details to each section.
  4. Break those three paragraphs into multiple paragraphs for each section, adding even more details—and turning those details into potential scenes.
  5. Group the scenes (and use flash cards if you want to, for easy movement) into paragraphs of action, which then magically become chapters!
  6. Voila, you should now have a skeleton outline featuring three sections of multiple paragraphs outlining your chapters by beginning, middle and end.

Today's prep challenge: Take 5-10 minutes to free write about your project in new or strange way: Scrawl your thoughts on construction paper in purple marker, close your eyes and write outside the lines, or draw your plot in pictograms. When you're done, choose the bits that stand out most to you or were the most fun to jot down, and make them the central points of your outline.

29 June 2017

Once you have your outline, refine it—just like you would the draft. Writing a story, script, or novel is like piecing together a puzzle. Not everything will fit just right the first time around—and pieces may be missing. Rework and move things around until it feels stable, doable, and, well, right.

And, just like a puzzle, it can help to have a second set of eyes. Talk your story through and share your outline with a critique partner or two while you're working on this stage. I always say two brains are better than one, if they're the right two brains. Sometimes a pal can articulate the particular insight or twistiness you're scratching at but just can't reach. Plus, having people invested at this early stage will up your accountability for later.

Today's prep challenge: Tell someone something new about the project you're working on for Camp. It can be one detail (i.e. a character's name, an event from the history or backstory of your world), or a major plot point (i.e. when Luke finds out who his father really is). Bonus: generate some suspense, so you leave that person asking, "So what happens next?!"

30 June 2017

As you dig into your Camp NaNoWriMo project, use your outline as a guide, and revisit it often. But remember: it's just a tool to help you along, not the work itself. Things will inevitably change once you start writing. It's an outline, so nothing is set in stone. If you need to, go back into your outline, and twist and tweak it as necessary, so it works naturally with the story you're trying to tell.

Today's prep challenge: Plan out how you'll write tomorrow. Figure out where, when, how, and for how long you'll write. Schedule it into your calendar or planner—block off that time and make it just for writing.

1 July 2017

Make a writing schedule (but remember that it's not the end of the world if you let it slide sometimes). Having the roadmap of an outline—as detailed or bare bones as it may be—will help you plan your time wisely, especially if you want to stick to daily or weekly word count goals. But remember: Camp NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun! Don't torture yourself if you miss a day or two. (Or ten. Hey, it happens.) And if you're smart, you'll build in some room for slacking off here and there.

Today's writing challenge: If you're feeling stuck or intimidated about how to start writing, take five minutes before you jump into your writing project to pen a love letter (or hate letter) to the blank page in front of you. It's surprising where words—any words—will lead you once you put them down.

Maurene Goo

Maurene Goo was the Camp Counselor for the first full week of July 2017. Author bio included in the care packages:

Maurene Goo grew up in a Los Angeles suburb surrounded by floral wallpaper and piles of books. She is the author of Since You Asked... and I Believe in a Thing Called Love and has very strong feelings about tacos and houseplants. You can find her in Los Angeles with her husband and two cats—one weird, one even more weird.

3 July 2017

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is getting into the right headspace to dig in. A blank document can be intimidating and very uninspiring. Before starting a new project, I like to seek out that inspiration in good writing. There's nothing like reading a good book to remind myself of why I want to write, what my ultimate goals are. So I recommend this little exercise:

Crack open your favorite books and read the first few pages. Do it until you feel the little embers of writing desire turn hot—then open up that doc, and strike while the iron's hot. (Need any more heat metaphors?)

Today's writing challenge: Try out Maurene's writing exercise with books from different authors. Notice if and how different authors' voices influence your own writing style, word choice, or narrative.

4 July 2017

For me, my characters come to me before the story does. When I try too hard to focus on the what, I get stymied and discouraged pretty quickly. So I've discovered that when I start free-form writing in my character's voice, the story starts coming to me.

This may not work for everyone, but this has been a really helpful exercise for me in the beginning, when things are still no-pressure and all about the mere starting of writing. It's not always busy work either—both my published novels kept very similar beginnings because that's where my characters' voices were born.

Today's writing challenge: Set a timer and free-form write from one of your character's perspectives. Try to really get inside their head—what do they want, what ticks them off, what do they feel passionate about? Are they writing in a diary, telling a story to a friend, or dictating a formal letter?

5 July 2017

I hate plotting. It almost feels like math—the most clinical part of writing for me. And I used to resist it. I had this idea in my head of what kind of writer I was: Ideas came to me like an ephemeral muse and I just had to be patient until she floated into my pristine writing den on gossamer wings. That's cool until you're on a deadline. And that's cool until you realize you've been waiting for that muse for way too long and haven't written in weeks.

So I've grown to love writing a rough synopsis. Not outlines—outlines are that mathy thing I hate. Instead, I just write out, in fast and not-belabored prose, what I think might happen in the story. It's usually anywhere from 5-10 pages. Then I use this as my map when I start getting stuck while drafting. It's the most hippie way of plotting I could come up with!

Today's writing challenge: If you haven't already, write a rough synopsis of where your story might be headed. If you already have a pretty good idea of where it's going, but feel stuck trying to get there, try writing a quick "alternate timeline" of the story you have in mind. Are there fixed, important events that happen in your story? What would happen if your characters made different decisions in those crucial moments?

6 July 2017

So what happens when your synopsis is stuck, when you're stuck, when you can't solve the weird puzzle that you've created for yourself? Seek out other storytellers to help you.

I used to have this pride about my work, like, it is ALL MY IDEA. How absurd. One of the joys of being a storyteller is watching how others interpret your ideas. And asking other people for ideas is amazing. Find people whose judgment you trust: for me, that's my husband who writes animated film screenplays, and other YA authors. I find that casual brainstorming in a relaxed setting (for example, your living room, or a bar!) really helps.

Today's writing challenge: Ask someone for a writing idea. It can be anyone—friend, family member, another participant in the forums. Get several ideas, and pick your favorite one. Take 10 minutes to free-write about this idea, just to see where it might take you. Save the other ones in a notebook or document where you can come back to them later if you're feeling stuck.

7 July 2017

This year, I finally had to draft an entire novel for the first time in my life. Gone were my casual word count goals. I had to finish this thing. Luckily, one of my writing pals, fellow YA author Morgan Matson, introduced me to my now-favorite writing trick: The 30-minute sprint (similar to the Pomodoro technique).

You write for 30 minutes, then take a 5-10 minute break. It's just enough time to get some words down, but feels bite-sized and totally doable. The little break is a dangling carrot, too. I drafted my entire novel this way and it was incredibly helpful.

Today's writing challenge: Try doing some 30-minute writing sprints with a break in between. You can use the NaNoWriMo word sprint tool to keep track of your time, or even create a group Word Sprint with your friends and writing buddies!

Amanda Lovelace

Amanda Lovelace was the Camp Counselor for the second full week of July 2016. Author bio included in the care packages:

Amanda Lovelace is the winner of the 2016 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Poetry with her debut collection, the princess saves herself in this one. She has been a poet for fifteen years. Currently she resides alongside her poet fiancé in a very small town in New Jersey known for its open mic scene. As you can see, poetry is her life, and she wants nothing more than to inspire others to begin their own journey into this enchanted world.

10 July 2017

Experiencing a bout of writer's block? All poets (and artists of every kind!) get stuck every once in a while, even the greats. Whenever my inspiration well runs dry, I take a step back from writing about my own life experiences and try to find inspiration elsewhere.

Don't forget: Poetry can be about anything, and you can find poetic beauty in every kind of writing. Instead of writing from your own perspective, try writing a poem or passage from the point of view of someone—or something—else. Your creative juices will be flowing in no time.

Today's writing challenge: Write in a form or style that you don't normally work in. If you're working on a novel, write a song or a poem from one character's perspective and have them sing or recite it to another character. Sketch out a scene of your non-fiction or memoir in comic book or graphic novel style. Or, if you're writing poetry, try a format you've never done before: maybe a sestina or an acrostic.

11 July 2017

Maya Angelou once said, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." Sometimes the story you most need to write is also the one that most scares you—and that's all the more reason to write it.

Poetry is one of the only places where you can free your thoughts without restriction. So, battle the monsters in your closet and craft a beautiful poem from their remains. You will thank yourself for your kindness later.

Today's writing challenge: If you're feeling stuck, take a break from working on your project and write something different for a little while. One of the best ways to figure out what's holding you back is to journal about your day. Write about the good things that have happened, the frustrations you're experiencing, and the interactions you've had with other people. At the very least, you can take your real-life experiences and re-work them to include in your story.

12 July 2017

If you're ever having doubts about the quality of the day's writing, remember that no piece is ever perfect the first time around. I mean, that's the whole reason editing exists! Worry about getting your marvelous ideas onto paper first and then worry about going back in with the red pen to tighten them up.

Today's writing challenge: Go back and read a scene, passage, or chapter you wrote that you absolutely love, the one you're most proud of. Remember what it felt like when those words all clicked into exactly the right place. Remind yourself that, while your writing won't feel this easy all the time, you know that you can get the rest of your draft to this level with a little time, patience, and editing.

13 July 2017

Feeling insecure about your writing? From time to time we all think that our poems aren't good enough, aren't original enough, or aren't enough like the work of a particular poet we admire. Don't worry—your writing voice will develop over time with a combination of patience and practice.

If you ever find yourself comparing your writing to the writing of someone else, keep in mind that the reason why those writers are so beloved is because of their unique take on things. We need your voice, not somebody else's. Push the limits and do something you've never seen done before!

Today's writing challenge: Think about how your writing voice has changed since you began writing—then, try writing in the voice of Past You. Growing older, trying new experiences, and learning more about writing can all be factors that influence your voice. For example, you could write a chapter in the style of an elementary school diary entry, or look up an old writing assignment and use it to draft your project.

14 July 2017

Free verse pieces don't need to be a certain length, but we poets do occasionally find ourselves weighing a piece down by adding too many unnecessary words. If you have stanzas or lines that don't necessarily add anything to your poem, don't be scared to take them out entirely. (This also applies to unnecessary additions to any kind of writing.)

Allow the poem to end where you feel is natural, and don't keep adding to it because you think it should be longer. There's no minimum word count for a good poem or piece of writing. Promise.

Today's writing challenge: As you're writing, make note of the parts of your project that seem out of place. As you edit, refer to the original outline or vision of your story, and see whether these pieces can be tightened up, belong in a different part of the story, or should be removed entirely.

Alexandra Duncan

Alexandra Duncan was the Camp Counselor for the third full week of July 2016. Author bio included in the care packages:

Alexandra Duncan is an author and librarian. Her YA sci-fi novels, Salvage and Sound, are available from Greenwillow Books, as is her forthcoming eco-thriller, Blight. She loves learning new things, especially anything that lets her get her hands dirty: pie-baking, leatherworking, gardening, drawing, and rolling sushi. She lives with her husband and two monstrous, furry cats in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

17 July 2017

When I'm feeling discouraged about a writing project, I try to think of my writing in terms of pottery. When a potter makes a jar, she doesn't start with nothing. She has her base material—clay—to shape into something beautiful.

We writers have to start out not by making a beautiful jar, but by creating our base material out of words. Think of your first draft as the clay. It's okay if it's messy and imperfect. The shaping and detail will come later, in editing. For now, create the clay.

Today's writing challenge: Pick a scene or passage you've written that you feel dissatisfied with. Take a short time—maybe 10 or 20 minutes—to read the passage as though it were someone else's work. Take a red pen and make notes in the margins. If you didn't know anything else about the story, where else could this scene go? Try to get a feel for how malleable the words and the story can be.

18 July 2017

Go to a busy public place, like a coffee shop. Bring along your notebook or computer. Your job is to observe people's interactions with each other and take notes. If you can, transcribe any conversations you hear.

Later, think about how people interacted. What power or relationship dynamics were at play? How did that affect the way people talked to each other? Who interrupted whom? Did people change the way they spoke depending on who they were addressing? Use what you've learned when crafting dialogue and character interactions.

Today's writing challenge: Complete Alexandra's writing dare in a place you've never been before. Try a new coffee shop, go to a park you've never visited, or take your notebook to a bar. What are there differences between the people you observe and the people you normally interact with?

19 July 2017

Sometimes a different point of view can help you get unstuck when you're writing. Try writing your scene from a different point of view (i.e. first person instead of third person, or vice versa), or change your format by writing in the form of a poem or play. Or, if you adhere to bestselling author Beth Revis's advice, which I've always found helpful, it might be time to blow something up!

Today's writing challenge: Follow Alexandra's advice, and shake things up in your story! (Get creative with it, and think of all the ways this could happen. Try something you've never tried before.)

20 July 2017

Travel can be a great source of inspiration, but sometimes we can't afford it or our bodies won't take us everywhere we want to go. Here are some ways to experience new things and get inspired from home.

  • Watch documentaries—Some of my favorites are from PBS's Nova series, but you can also find a ton of great documentaries on streaming services or at your local library.
  • Buy or check out a travel guide from the library.
  • Google Earth—Put in a location and see a 360-degree street-view of the place. Walk around by using the arrows!

Today's writing challenge: Choose a place you've never been to. (If you have a map, you can close your eyes and pick a random spot for an extra challenge!) Try to look learn everything you can about that location and make it the setting for the next scene you write. Try to include as many details as possible to make it seem like you've actually been there. For example, what does it smell like? What kind of people would you see there? What is the climate like?

21 July 2017

I'm a visually-centered person. When I'm writing a novel or short story, I often make a collage of images solely for my own inspiration. When I'm feeling stuck, I'll go back and look at those images to try to tap into the feeling they gave me. Maybe you are more inspired by music or another art form, though.

Pick a song, poem, piece of art, or photograph and try to imagine the story behind it. Write something that evokes the same feeling in you that you had on seeing or hearing the original piece of art.

Today's writing challenge: Create your own inspiration collage, whether that's a physical collage, a Pinterest board, or an epic writing playlist. If you made an outline for your project at the beginning of the month, you can even refer back to it and try to create a different collage or feeling for each major section.

Patrice Caldwell

Patrice Caldwell was the Camp Counselor for the final week of July 2017. Author bio included in the care packages:

Patrice Caldwell is a twentysomething introvert gone wild. By day, she's a book editor, and by night, weekend, and early morning (if she's had enough green tea) she's a writer. You can learn more about Patrice, her writing, editorial wishlist, favorite books, and general musings at her website. You can also find her on Twitter, her secondary home.

24 July 2017

It's so easy to carry guilt around: guilt about not writing every day. Guilt about not hitting the goals you set for yourself during Camp NaNoWriMo. Guilt about not balancing writing with your job, with life, with your many other commitments.

If you're going to be a writer, you must learn to forgive yourself. Writing is hard enough as is without that guilt. Whether you've written a thousand words or ten thousand, keep reminding yourself that you're writing, and therefore you're doing something most never do. Forgive yourself and keep going.

Today's writing challenge: Make a list of the things that make you feel guilty about your writing. (i.e., "I haven't written in 10 days even though I could have made the time.") Call yourself out. Then, go through each point and write a goal or accomplishment to challenge that guilt. (i.e., "I have already written more than I did last month", or "I will set aside 30 minutes to write today.")

25 July 2017

Author Shannon Hale once said, "When writing a first draft, I have to remind myself constantly that I'm only shoveling sand into a box so later I can build castles."

Your first draft doesn't need to be perfect—it doesn't even need to have a solid shape yet. All you need is the raw material so you can build that castle when you revise.

Today's writing challenge: Join a word sprint to keep shoveling sand into that box. Don't worry about whether the prompt makes sense for your story. Don't worry about whether your writing comes out "good" (or even readable). Just fill up your page with words. You can sift through them later.

26 July 2017

I write character-driven stories, which means I heavily depend on my characters to lead. Often when I get stuck, it's because I'm having my character do something for the plot that doesn't fit their character.

When this happens, I ask myself what their motivation is in this scene. Why are they doing what they're doing, and, most of all, what is it they're afraid of? Often, I can use these fears to push the story forward.

Today's writing challenge: Pick a scene that you feel dissatisfied with, and do an in-depth analysis of each character's motivations in that scene. Focus particularly on what those characters fears—what they're trying to overcome or what they're running away from.

27 July 2017

I think it's really easy, when you're nearing the end, to not want to stop, to push yourself harder than you have before because you're excited to finish and you often desperately want to be done. These are also the times when you might need to take a break the most.

Your health is important, so don't forget to give yourself moments, even if they're small, of taking care of yourself. Go outside, spend time with a friend, do your laundry, or (in my case) clean your room. Writing is so incredibly important, but so are our lives. Your life gives your art its potential.

Today's writing challenge: Take a break from your writing and do something that helps replenish your energy, health, or serenity.

28 July 2017

Too often, I get frustrated and stuck near the end when I think about all the things I have to fix. To combat this, keep a notebook beside you while you write. As you near the end, write down the issues you know are there. This way, you can keep writing but you're also giving your future self a sort of revision guide. Remember, you can fix those issues later—revising is where the magic happens—but first you have to finish.

Today's writing challenge: Try doing a word sprint using the NaNoWriMo word sprint tool, either on your own or with a buddy. If you find yourself pausing to critique the things you need to fix, don't stop writing. Write down what those things are, and count those words toward your word sprint.