Category: CAMP NANOWRIMO

Camp Pep: Write Your Story for You

Camp NaNoWriMo is nothing without you, our incredible participants. Today, Camp NaNoWriMo participant Kyle Winters offers you some advice for this last day of Camp:

Hey there Campers! How’s it going so far? Have you been extracting carts full of delicious word-ore from those story-mines, piling it into big, uh, word piles, and… This metaphor has broken down completely. Regardless, I hope you’ve been having a productive Camp NaNoWriMo! I’ve been plugging away on my novella, not always hitting my goal, but making sure that my butt meets chair and my fingers hit keys.

Having a great outline has helped things go smoothly and I’m hydrated, stimulated and not overly caffeinated, so it all should be going like clockwork, right? Why, then, did I wake up in the middle of the night, gripped with a desperate panic?

My heart raced, sweat clung to me, and I had a marrow-deep need to be validated. It was just after 3:00 a.m. and I scrolled through my phone’s contacts, Facebook, and Twitter trying to figure out who among my friends might be awake and able to give me that sweet, sweet hit of approval my brain so craved. Everyone was asleep, and I cursed that all of my friends had avoided crippling internet addictions.

There’s a weird thing that happens when you’re buckling down on a long project where you become like a hermit in the woods. You’re alone with your story, characters, and world for so long that you begin to feel a sense of isolation and unease. What happens when I leave my weird, coffee-stained hermit shack and try reentering normal society, story in hand? Will I be accepted with open arms, or will I be cast out so quickly that I leave a Kyle-shaped dust outline behind, like in a cartoon?

“Regardless of whether you publish what you’re working on right now and gain a million readers, or the story stays yours and yours alone, you get to look yourself in the eyes at the end of this month and say, ‘I’m a writer.’”

Every writer feels this way at some point because writing is profoundly personal, difficult, and lonely most of the time. Maybe that sounds dramatic, and it is, but we’re allowed to be a bit dramatic since we’re among friends here. Pulling 50,000 words, or 50 words, out of your brain and putting them on the page is a very intense, tiring, and sometimes painful process. It’s only logical that your brain would fight back. It wants a cookie, a treat, a reason to keep fighting with itself and all of your fears. It wants you to call a friend at three in the morning and beg them to read your novella just to say something nice about it, and if you don’t do that, it wants you to give up. Don’t listen. 

Great authors have finished their works because they knew, in the end, that they were writing for themselves. Every word put on the page was a word they wanted there, and it didn’t matter what someone else said or thought. They wrote because, like you, they are writers and (I know this sounds crazy) writers write. Not to put out in the world or to win acceptance from the unknown “they,” but because it is an act for themselves.

I know right now you’re probably struggling, because so am I. Just remember that we all write for an audience of one, and that audience is you. Regardless of whether you publish what you’re working on right now and gain a million readers, or the story stays yours and yours alone, you get to look yourself in the eyes at the end of this month and say, “I’m a writer.” I’m rooting for you and I know you can do it, because if I can, you definitely can.


Kyle Winters is a seasoned writer and mega-nerd with a decade of creative experience beginning with comics and ending with, we can assume, a Thunderdome-style pit fight to the death. His upcoming sci-fi horror novella will be out by the end of 2018, and if you’d like to know when that happens, follow him on Twitter or sign up to his mailing list. Don’t worry, he doesn’t spam.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Michael Dorausch 
on Flickr.

Giving Up Would Be Easier than Continuing Writing, Right?

Camp NaNoWriMo is almost over! It can be tempting to give up on your writing project if you’re feeling frustrated, but today, Camper Eva Papka reminds you of the reasons you shouldn’t give up:

Maybe this thought has crept into a corner of your mind. After all, at the beginning of your writing quest, those words seemed a surmountable task. And it’s true that you’ve been adventuring for awhile in your Camp NaNoWriMo writing, but now you find yourself weary and filled with doubt. Dreaded responsibility monsters might even be attacking you and calling you away from your writing. Perhaps you find yourself stuck at an impossible plot point, or your characters are really misbehaving from your outline and consequently you’ve toyed with the idea of putting your sword down.

Every writer experiences the battle of grim thoughts, especially when they’re getting closer to striking gold. And it’s easy to forget that in the past month you’ve done the impossible because instead of rejoicing in your words you’ve been measuring your success with the completion of your goals. But, you’ve forged words together and hammered away at your art despite the impossible. You’ve gotten words out before or after your endless daily tasks, and no matter the number of them, you’ve made magic. You’ve accepted your writing journey the way a hopeful new hero takes on a quest: with bravery and determination.

And now a delicious question occurs to you: What would happen if you continued to add more words? What if you continued making your art?

“Every writer experiences the battle of grim thoughts, especially when they’re getting closer to striking gold.”

Reality monsters and doubt aside, your art matters! In the past month, you’ve managed to create a new world; or perhaps you’ve been a NaNo rebel and have commenced a revision battle, fighting and tweaking your art in order to make it shine brighter like a polished hero’s sword. Everyone else has gone about with their normal lives, but in your spare time you’ve not only done that, but you’ve also woven a new reality together in the form of your stories.

In these last few steps of the hero’s journey, there’s always that desire to give up, and you might even find yourself creatively blocked, but it happens to every writer, whether they’re new to threading stories together or not. And we are all in this together.

There’s a quote out there that’s been tumbling around in my mind: “The moment you are ready to quit is usually the moment right before the miracle happens. Do not give up.”

So, get out there. You are an inspiration hunter, and you are bound to be victorious, regardless of a pesky word count. Perhaps you’ll stumble upon inspiration during a walk or while listening to a new song. Maybe the answer will be hiding in your dreams or will be reignited by reading an exciting book. Turn to those authors that have touched you, or to those friends that are also story tellers, or to your wonderful NaNo community for support in the last leg of the journey.

Your words matter. Your art matters. Every word written is a step closer to that finished product. To a dream made tangible. Regardless of where you are in your goals, do not give up. You are a word warrior, slayer of monsters, creator of worlds and a Camp NaNoWriMo champion.


Eva Papka has as a Bachelor of Arts in Adolescent English Education and a Masters of Science in Education in Adolescent Literacy. Eva drinks lots of coffee and is typically trapped in a day dream. She is a lover of all things cats, fantasy, and YA. She is currently querying a YA fantasy and working on a realistic fiction novel. She co-hosts a weekly Twitter writing and SFF chat called #Magicmon. You can find her being awkward and gushing about fantasy and writing on her Twitter handle @wordcaffeine.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Sarah Scicluna on Flickr.

Camp Pep: Nothing is Impossible

Camp NaNoWriMo is nothing without you, our incredible participants. Today, Camp NaNoWriMo participant Erica McNary offers you some advice for this last week of Camp:

You’re exhausted.

You’re frustrated.

The words won’t come.

We’ve all been there.

I’m currently there with you. We start our projects with steely resolve, determination and confidence. Now, the time has come for writer’s block, uncooperative characters, faulty plot lines, and (very much for me) real life responsibilities to get in the way. Between my inordinately large brood of children and the need to keep them not only alive but entertained during the summer, too many volunteer commitments (because I just can’t say no), and the never-ending laundry and food preparation routine that accompanies a large family, writing hundreds of words per day feels impossible.

But I didn’t start writing only to call it impossible halfway through and neither did you. We Campers have words in our heads that are desperate to be written. Words that, no matter how imperfect and chaotic they are at first, are worth the time we spend huddled over keyboards. Amidst the bedlam of daily life, sometimes through the din of kids’ laughter and squabbles—because, summer break—we write.

“That’s what it’s about, Campers: finding the tiny pockets of time to get even a few dozen more words on your screen.“

I write in the early morning before the kids wake. I write late at night when the entire house is finally asleep and quiet. I drag my ancient and decrepit iPad 2/keyboard case combo around with me like it’s my sixth—and quietest—child and write on the go, waiting for ballet, hockey, and camp pick-up. Since I’m usually buried under two tons of laundry, I write in between switching out loads and matching innumerous socks because of all the places in the house where the kids could find me, the laundry room is the least likely place for them to look.

That’s what it’s about, Campers: finding the tiny pockets of time to get even a few dozen more words on your screen. It’s late nights and early mornings and self-imposed deadlines that you won’t always meet. Whether your obstacles are large families, job responsibilities or story problems, your mission this month is to work through these things because your words are precious and your project is worth it.  

We have goals to reach! Your goal may be upping your word count, revising for querying or character development. Whatever it is, this is not the time to let self-doubt creep in and worry whether your words are good enough. This is the time for your words to be written! Maybe it’s changing your routine, turning off your music, turning on some music, writing early in the morning rather than at night. Whatever it is that helps you power through and find inspiration, go with it.

When all else fails, embrace a change of scenery and hide in your laundry room. You never know where inspiration might strike.


Erica McNary is a former nurse, mom of many, constant preparer of food, and drinker of coffee. After spending the last eleven years exclusively employed by her five children in the area of parenting arts, she became one of the last people on Earth to read Harry Potter. The series reminded her how good reading was for the soul and inspired this crazy idea that the words, thoughts, and characters floating through her head could be organized into something resembling her own book. Erica is currently juggling the chaos of managing the characters of her first novel along with raising a herd of children. You can find Erica on Twitter: @erica_mcnary, and Instagram: ericamcnary.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Peppysis on Flickr.

20 Questions to Ask Yourself When Worldbuilding

One of the most important parts of writing is grounding your story in a believable setting––not just for fantasy, but any genre. Worldbuilding can help you figure out how your characters fit into the bigger picture, or learn what their motivations are. 

Sometimes, it can seem frustrating to spend a lot of time on building an elaborate world for your novel, only to have to cut most of that fascinating history and background in the final draft. But having that knowledge is important to create fully rounded out characters and plot. In fact, the iceberg theory of writing imagines that 80-90% of a story occurs below the surface!

How much do you know about the world of your novel? We’ve come up with 20 important questions to ask yourself when creating the background for your story:

  1. How long has your world existed?
  2. How did your world originate? Do the people who inhabit your world have a creation myth, or a scientific explanation for how it came to be?
  3. What are some important historic events in your world? How did they contribute to the geographic or social structures that exist in your world’s present day?
  4. What is considered a curse word in your world? What is considered sacred, and what is considered profane?
  5. What holidays does your world celebrate?
  6. Does your world have a religion? Do the people in your world put their faith in some other sort of power or institution?
  7. If your world has religion, is there one main religion, or many religions? Are the main religions of your world monotheistic or pantheistic?
  8. What resources are in your world? What are the imports/exports? Which resources are rare and valuable, and which are necessary or common?
  9. What is the structure of your world’s government?
  10. What is the geography and climate of your world?
  11. What are the seasons of your world?
  12. What kind of calendar system does your world have? What’s it based on (lunar cycles, a monarch’s rule, etc.)?
  13. What are the distances between important places in your world? Draw a map if you want to!
  14. What is the class or social structure of your world? Where in that structure does your main character fall?
  15. What language(s) do your characters speak? Is language ever a barrier to communication?
  16. What are some details you can use from real-world places  that are similar to your world to make it feel more believable?
  17. What does your world smell like?
  18. What are some of the main dishes the people in your world eat?
  19. What are the limitations of power, energy, or magic in your world?
  20. What kinds of objects or ideas are familiar to the people of your world? What kind of objects or ideas are strange or outlandish to them?

If you get overwhelmed looking at the big picture, try building your world from your character’s perspective: first, what does their room look like? Then, what does their house look like? What kind of neighborhood do they live in? How does that neighborhood fit in with the rest of the town or city they inhabit? What part of the country is that city in? Etc.

The most important things to remember about worldbuilding are: (a) creating a larger scope for your world should still be fun for you, and (b) the worldbuilding you do should help deepen a reader’s connection with your character or drive the plot forward.

Top photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash.

“When you find yourself forcing things, try something novel:…

“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.”

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.

Your Camp Care Package is brought to you by Camp NaNoWriMo. Sign up to receive more Camp Care Packages at campnanowrimo.org.

Developing Consistent Themes in Your Novel

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How is your writing going, Campers? Are you swept away in the world you’re creating, or struggling to write the next chapter? Today, Camper Candace S. Hughes shares a few words of wisdom about developing overarching themes as you write: 

As we move forward in creating our characters and fleshing out the plot, writers must always circle back to ensure that each day’s writing supports the theme and character development. Instead of the reader asking “Where is this going?” we want to ensure that our new additions show a strong relationship to the story you are telling. 

In my own writing, which is mostly creative nonfiction, I use the skills I taught in freshman English. I have an opening paragraph ending with a sentence giving the reader a hint about where I am going. Each new paragraph develops and supports this thesis or theme. If I choose to have several paragraphs of description, I tie them back into what would have been a thesis statement in an English composition. Since some writers may not want to associate in any way with freshman English, the point is to simply take the reader into consideration when going off in a new direction.

I enjoyed this month’s PBS and New York Times book club selection Pachinko, and until I was three quarters of the way through the book I was wondering why it was only a finalist for the National Book Award. Then, close to the ending, new subplots were introduced and not tied into the main story, and that part of the character’s behavior and development was unexplained. I checked with my fellow readers and found that, like me, many loved the book but were puzzled about new and unassociated action toward the end of the novel. 

“Unity and coherence with good details and well-chosen rising and falling action keep the audience interested in completing the book.”

Foreshadowing is a key element that shows why a specific incident is introduced and can help a reader connect different parts of your story. A controlling idea or theme that the reader clearly sees in each new chapter is one of the best ways to revise when the first draft is completed. Unity and coherence with good details and well-chosen rising and falling action keep the audience interested in completing the book and closing the sad thought that an engaging tale has ended. 

To keep the writer interested in completing the first draft, I recall the comedic action in the Pulitzer Prize winner Less. Our hero ends up in bed with an injured ankle and in a hotel in a foreign country with few distractions. He has three weeks to work on his novel, and when he returns to the States is reminded by an old friend that he should not be distracted and should complete his book. While in the summer it may be hard to stay with Camp NaNoWriMo, I encourage all of us to continue toward our common goal.


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Candace S. Hughes has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism and has done graduate work toward a master of liberal studies degree. Her poetry has been published at The Arizona Republic Poetry Spot and she has had freelance articles published by Smithsonian.com and Arizona publications.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Linda on Flickr.

“If you can’t picture exactly what comes next in your story, but you do know what happens a little…”

“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.”

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.

Your Camp Care Package is brought to you by Camp NaNoWriMo. Sign up to receive more Camp Care Packages at campnanowrimo.org.

Camp Pep: You Are an Artist

Camp NaNoWriMo is nothing without you, our incredible participants. Today, Camp NaNoWriMo participant Ashley Jean Granillo offers you some advice for this week of Camp:

Dear Writer,

Your story is worth telling, even if the writing hasn’t caught up to the ingenious idea that you’ve been working out on in your mind as you shower away the filth of your day job.

If you’ve forgotten: writing is a process. Currently, you’re probably in the drafting stage. And drafts, especially first drafts, aren’t perfect. They are messy––riddled with grammatical errors and sentences that appear to be in the language of your choosing but sound foreign. This is exactly where your writing is supposed to be. Yes, you are supposed to be writing cliches and flat lines of dialogue because you are only in the beginning stages of unveiling your story’s true potential. Think of yourself as an artist, sketching out the shapes of a landscape. The detail and color will come with patience.

As a college composition professor and author, I’ve seen and experienced failure, and it’s usually as a result of the self-doubt that occurs during the drafting stage. Too often my students, and occasionally my own brain, tell me that the inconsistencies and poorly structured sentences deem us unfit to continue writing––that we are a disgrace to the art of composition. Remember that artist: just because they sketched a mitten in place of hand doesn’t mean they can’t draw fingers. They’re waiting for the right moment.

“You must to be willing to be imperfect to be a writer. As an artist, you must accept that the first line you draw won’t be your straightest.”

Love from the Barricade, my debut novel, was written during NaNoWriMo, and its first draft would give you secondhand embarrassment. It had ten identical characters, and a main character who didn’t know what she wanted, and neither did I at the time. But that first draft, however horrible it was, served as a reminder that: having the draft of a novel is a lot better than having an idea for a novel. You can revise a draft, but you cannot revise an idea, because it does not physically exist for you to rework. I couldn’t discover Aijae without sifting through her confusion. You must to be willing to be imperfect to be a writer. As an artist, you must accept that the first line you draw won’t be your straightest. Luckily, there are tools to help you reshape the work, but later.

You’re a writer and an artist even though your novel is not finished. What separates you from so many other people is that they have ideas for stories, but they fail to do what we do everyday, what you do everyday: write.

Writing is not a competition, albeit this challenge may make it appear that way. Art is practice. You are only here because you have one goal, and that’s to complete what you haven’t had the courage or time to do in the past. You aren’t here to outdo someone else, or make your partners, friends, and family members proud. Let them cheer you on, but don’t allow yourself to think that if your word count slips away that you’re letting them down. By being here, getting in those 500, sometimes only even 100 words a day, you are doing the right thing for yourself. You are taking part of something much greater than you could ever imagine. Revel in the journey of discovery.

I had a student who came in every class with the same defeated look, and the same exhausted sentence, “I completed the essay, professor. But it isn’t any good.”  My response wasn’t that they’d better get their sh*t together before I failed their work for its disorganization and comma splices. Instead, I told them this:

I am proud of you. You’re just about to surprise yourself with how incredible your story can actually be.

Take care,
Ashley Jean


Ashley Jean Granillo is an English instructor at College of the Canyons. She has her BA and MA in Creative Writing from California State University Northridge. For a time, she was a freelance music journalist, which serves as the inspiration for her debut novel. Her first novel (a NaNoWriMo Winner 2015), Love from the Barricade, debuts in September from Black Rose Writing. Currently, she is on a mini tour along the west coast, following the music of her favorite band.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from César Astudillo on Flickr.

“There is no ‘right’ way to write. Do whatever feels best for…

“There is no ‘right’ way to write. Do whatever feels best for you. Try working on whatever section you’re most excited about at the moment—I’ve found that it leads to my best writing.”

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.

Your Camp Care Package is brought to you by Camp NaNoWriMo. Sign up to receive more Camp Care Packages at campnanowrimo.org.

Text added over original image by Patrick Fore on Unsplash.

“Some writing days are better than others, and the most important thing is to remember why you write:…”

“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.’”

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.

Your Camp Care Package is brought to you by Camp NaNoWriMo. Sign up to receive more Camp Care Packages at campnanowrimo.org.