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Camp Care Package/July 2018
This page contains the Camp Care Packages from Camp NaNoWriMo July 2018.
July 2018's Camp Counselors were Claire Kann, Gloria Chao, Kirstin Chen, and Jessica Strawser.
These care packages included writing challenges from the NaNoWriMo staff.
Claire Kann was Camp Counselor for the first week of July 2018. Author bio included in the care packages:
Claire Kann hails from the glorious Bay Area where the weather is regrettably not nearly as temperate as it used to be. Let's Talk About Love is her debut YA contemporary novel, published in 2018 with Swoon Reads/Macmillan. A sucker for instant gratification, she also posts new stories regularly to Wattpad, including the two Watty Award-winning stories: The Scavenger Hunt and #Fatgirl Magic. To connect with her, please visit her website ClaireKann.com.
2 July 2018
I'm a late-in-life writer. I grew up voraciously reading any book I could get my hands on but never thought writing was something I wanted to do. Sometimes, it can be discouraging to hear your peers have been creating stories since the second they learned how to write, or that they've posted 250k+ word fanfics with ease. Compared to them, you might feel like you're not good enough, that you haven't put in enough background work yet, which isn't true at all. Just because they got a head start, doesn't mean you don't belong too. There's space for all of us.
Today's writing challenge: Write about something your character is doing for the first time. If you're new to writing, or feeling intimidated by a blank page, explore your own reactions and channel them into your character!
3 July 2018
Even if a character comes to you fully formed, it's your job to sit down and learn their history, to know them inside and out. I like to think characters are similar to trees—inside of them are growth rings representing years of life and development. As a writer, it's your job to account for all of those rings.
Today's writing challenge: Sit down and interview your character. Ask them questions about their past, their relationships, their goals—or who would play them in a movie of their life!
4 July 2018
One of the hardest parts of drafting is getting to The End! While drafting do you prefer to revise as you go, rereading and polishing your previous day's work before moving on? Or do you prefer to write out of order as the scenes come to you and connect the dots later? Personally, I am a zero drafter. I word-vomit the entire story in chronological order, not stopping to fix anything. There are multiple ways to draft, and no one way is going to work for everyone. It's important to find a method that works best for you.
Today's writing challenge: Attempt a different drafting method than you usually use, just to try it on for size. If you always write from beginning to end, write a scene out of order; if you have to edit as you go, try just writing stream of consciousness!
5 July 2018
One of the things I struggle with is the use of beta readers and critique partners. When I first started out, that was the number one piece of advice I read everywhere—find your people! Trade chapters! Incorporate feedback! And so I did, for a time, but now I don't. I wish someone had said this to me back then, so I'm going to be that person for you now if you need it: It's okay to be a solitary writer. It's okay to trust and believe in your creative instincts.
Today's writing challenge: Who do you share your stories with? Who do you bounce ideas off of or trust to tell you when you have a big plot hole? Do you need to work through several drafts and have things polished before you show it to anyone? Jot some thoughts down around the process that works best for you—whatever way you feel most comfortable sharing your writing (or not!) is valid.
6 July 2018
I'm the kind of creator that doesn't experience writer's block. I suffer from what's known as writer's laziness—and I know I'm not alone. When this happens, I can't even force myself to get my work done. But instead of sitting and staring at a blank page, I'll give myself a set number of minutes to indulge in media that will inspire me to get back to work. Writing a romance? Watch your favorite romcom! Knee-deep in horror land? Find a book that has the same kind of spooktacular themes you're exploring. I often find that's enough to jumpstart my writing.
Today's writing challenge: If you're in that place of staring at a blank page with no ideas, take a break from your writing and find something that inspires you! When you come back to your writing, spend 5 or 10 minutes just free writing about the inspiring experience you had.
Kirstin Chen was the second Camp Counselor for July 2018. Author bio included in the care packages:
Kirstin Chen's new novel, Bury What We Cannot Take, has been named a Most Anticipated Upcoming Book by Electric Literature, The Millions, The Rumpus, Harper's Bazaar, and InStyle, among others. She is also the author of Soy Sauce for Beginners. She was the fall 2017 NTU-NAC National Writer in Residence in Singapore, and has received awards from the Steinbeck Fellows Program, Sewanee, Hedgebrook, and the Napa Valley Writers' Conference. Born and raised in Singapore, she currently resides in San Francisco. Visit her at kirstinchen.com.
9 July 2018
When I'm feeling lost or overwhelmed, I go back, again and again, to this wonderful quote from E.L Doctorow: "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." And it really is true. You don't have to have everything figured out up front; you just have to know enough to take one step forward, and then another.
Today's writing challenge: If you're struggling to figure out where your story's going, try to follow just one small thread of your story forward—don't worry about the big picture yet. What does the rest of your main character's day look like? What happened to that minor character from chapter two? Where does your character's next meal come from? Once you've answered some of these smaller questions, you might find you have patches of light in the fog that are easier to string together.
10 July 2018
Just as important as writing every day (or as close to it as you can manage) is reading every day. I read as much as I can, and broadly, too, not just research for my work-in-progress. In my experience, it's often the books that resemble yours the least that end up unlocking something in your writing. And when this happens, it's a wonderful reminder of how mysterious and magical this whole process is—and how lucky we are to be writers.
Today's writing challenge: Read something that you wouldn't normally pick up. It can be a book, short story, newspaper article—anything that interests you. Maybe you'll come across a word, phrase, or idea that sparks something new in your writing!
11 July 2018
There are going to be times when you feel uninspired, when the very last thing you want to do is to sit down and write. Moments like these, I remind myself that sometimes the work itself can create excitement. As Joyce Carol Oates attests, "I have forced myself to begin writing when I've been utterly exhausted, when I've felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes... and somehow the activity of writing changes everything."
Today's writing challenge: If you're feeling uninspired, set a timer and make yourself sit down for just 5 or 10 minutes to write. By the end of that time, you may find that you're excited to keep going!
12 July 2018
When I'm feeling really stuck and simply don't have the slightest idea about what should happen next, I go back to the basics and ask myself: What is this character's overarching desire? What do they want in this particular scene? What is standing in their way? How far would they go to get what they want? Answering these questions often helps me find a way to keep going.
Today's writing challenge: Find a sticky point in your plot and ask yourself the questions Kirstin suggested, or any others that make sense to you. How can your characters help shape where your novel is going?
13 July 2018
Find a reader who really gets your work, whose judgment you really respect and trust, and show them your early drafts. (And, of course, offer to reciprocate!) When I'm drafting something new, I send my best reader a thousand words a day over email, and he reads them and gives me a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down. The former means keep going; the latter means go back and revise. It seems so elementary, but it has changed my approach to writing—and it's sped me up, too.
Today's writing challenge: If you're feeling stuck, go back and read some of what you've written in the past few days. Are there any "thumbs-up" or "thumbs-down" moments that jump out at you? Pick up with the parts that feel like they're heading in the right direction.
Gloria Chao was Camp Counselor for the third week of July 2018. Author bio included in the care packages:
Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. She currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She was once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out. American Panda is her debut novel, and Misaligned is forthcoming fall 2019. Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at gloriachao.wordpress.com and find her on Twitter and Instagram @gloriacchao.
16 July 2018
Some writing days are better than others, and the most important thing is to remember why you write: because you love it, because you have stories to tell, because your readers need your stories. One of my favorite quotes is from Walt Disney: "If you can dream it, you can do it."
Today's writing challenge: If it hasn't been a good writing day for you so far, take a few minutes and free write about what feels so great about writing on the good days. Try to capture how you feel, both physically and emotionally. Hopefully, recapturing some of that energy will help you push on with the next section of your story!
17 July 2018
What is the most defining characteristic of your protagonist? What are their goals and why can't they reach them? Write out a backstory that shows one instance of how they became like this (e.g., an incident that made them take it one step further, a previous experience that clarified their goals or challenges). Remembering who your character is and what their goal is will help you determine what their next action needs to be.
Today's writing challenge: Use Gloria's prompt to learn more about the backstory of your main character. You may learn some surprising things about your story!
18 July 2018
Everyone's process is different so listen to your gut: if you're not feeling it today, it's okay if you don't hit your word count. Take a break, read, relax, and come back when you're refreshed. You can make up for these days later when you're more on a roll. And remember: it's not about the number but the work you've put in, which sometimes can't be easily quantified.
Today's writing challenge: From Gloria: "Try working on whatever section you're most excited about at the moment—I've found that it leads to my best writing, and it's too hard to focus on something else when you're distracted by a different scene."
19 July 2018
What is the absolute worst thing that could happen to your character right now? Even if it doesn't fit perfectly with where you are now, take a side road and write the scene where this awful thing happens and see where it takes you. Have fun with it! (If you can't think of any worst-case scenarios, try the extra writing challenge below.)
Today's writing challenge: From Gloria: "Still stuck? Try to pick some wild examples from your life or someone you know. My debut novel is mostly based on true stories, and sometimes the most vivid, wacky situations don't require much imagination at all."
20 July 2018
I am proof that you can get published without having a writing degree, without a single connection in the business, and without knowing your whole life that you wanted to be an author. The things that helped me the most during my journey:
- Reading different voices and narrative structures across many age categories and genres;
- Rewriting, revising, reworking to develop my craft and learn rhythm, word choice, and structure; and
- Taking breaks between rounds to be able to come back with fresh eyes.
Today's writing challenge: Participate in a timed word sprint to help you reach your goal. Set a timer for 10, 20, or 30 minutes and write as much as you can in that time! (If you're on a roll, take a 5–15 minute break, and then try it again.)
Jessica Strawser was Camp Counselor for the final week of July. Author bio included in the care packages:
Jessica Strawser is editor-at-large at Writer's Digest, where she was editorial director for nearly a decade. She's the author of the book club favorites Almost Missed You and Not That I Could Tell, a Book of the Month selection and Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction pick for March 2018 (both St. Martin's Press). Her third novel, Forget You Know Me, is forthcoming in February 2019. She has written for The New York Times Modern Love, Publishers Weekly and others, and is a popular conference speaker. Connect with her on Twitter at @jessicastrawser and on Facebook @jessicastrawserauthor.
23 July 2018
If you can't picture exactly what comes next in your story, but you do know what happens a little later on, just skip ahead. (This works even near the end, with multiple strings to tie up!) We're all aiming for a cohesive beginning, middle, and finish, but no law says you have to do it in order. My first published novel was written out of sequence, and I doubt it would've come together any other way. I firmly believe the truest writing comes from penning whatever is most vivid to you in the moment; you can bridge the gaps later.
Today's writing challenge: If you're nearing the end of your project, take a moment to figure out all the "strings" you need to tie up. Which one excites you the most? How can you bring that excitement to your story's other subplots?
24 July 2018
Some writers stop reading others' work while in the throes of a big project, but I never do. Even a few nightly pages before I shut off the light can remind me of how stories are written: one scene leading to the next, with not every sentence an exercise in perfection. More important, they remind me of why I write—of an imagined world's power to make a reader feel. If you've sacrificed your reading time to complete this challenge, pick it up again now. Even 5 minutes can ground you in what it is we're all trying to do.
Today's writing challenge: Follow Jessica's advice and pick up a book, short story, or graphic novel that reminds you why you love to read and write!
25 July 2018
Though there's a lot to be said for keeping your butt in the chair, it's also true that the recharged and ready you is a better writer than the exhausted and frustrated you. When you find yourself forcing things, try something novel: Stop. Take a walk, a shower, a drive. I'm stubborn about not doing this—it can feel like admitting defeat—but when I take these little reprieves, I almost always curse myself... for not having done it sooner. This is when whatever was tripping you up—whether the twist for the next scene, or the fix for the last one—will come.
Today's writing challenge: Pick one part of your story that's been giving you trouble. Then follow Jessica's advice: go for a walk or do some self care while mulling over the problem at hand! Afterward, sit down and set a timer to write for 10 minutes to see if anything was shaken loose.
26 July 2018
I once had the privilege of interviewing Patricia Cornwell—who was adamant that insecurity can be good for a writer. "I'll be honest," she said. "When somebody has written their first novel and they tell me how fantastic it is, I know it's probably not very good. It's usually the person who says, 'I'm not sure what I think...' and then you look at the thing and go, 'Now that is really special.' So it's not bad to be a little insecure. It makes you work harder and pay attention." When I'm pushing through a draft and that hopeless feeling creeps in, I remember this. Feeling uncertain could be a sign of real magic! You'll never know if you don't see it through.
Today's writing challenge: Write a scene where one of your characters feels uncertain about something they're doing or creating, but it turns out they're doing everything exactly right!
27 July 2018
If there's one thing I learned in my time at Writer's Digest, it's this: What you're doing right now matters. Maybe it's nourishing your soul in some essential way. Maybe it's preparing you for a challenge you haven't yet faced. Maybe the words you're second-guessing right now are precisely the ones a reader somewhere is longing for—whether that's in the form of an answered question or simply a needed distraction from a hard day. If you feel called to the page, trust that it's for good reason. And if anyone tries to shake your faith in that? Resist.
Today's writing challenge: Write about something that fires you up, that makes you feel the most alive or joyful or angry. You can journal about it, or put it into your project as a passionate speech that one of your characters makes.