This morning as I was getting ready for work, I knocked over one of those ever present piles of ‘to read’ books that decorate my house. The one that caught my attention was a beautiful little Jane Austen 5 year journal. It seemed that even before I knew I was a writer my family and friends must have thought I was because there are several, mostly empty versions scattered about my house. But this journal was special, a graduation present from a former English class friend; it celebrated my lifelong dream of finishing college. The fact that it took me nearly 40 years to reach that goal made it all the more precious.
The book flipped open to January 12th, 2014 and the short note read, “Went to my first writers’ workshop. Interesting people. Next meeting Feb.9th.” I was hooked. My friend Natalie accompanied me and we met some great people and learned so much. For a couple months I took notes, learned, and talked with writers who had taken the next step in story writing, rather than story thinking.
When March rolled around, the talk began to center on Camp, which of course many of us newbies thinks actually concerns marshmallows, sleeping bags, and mosquitoes. I had heard the term NaNoWriMo thrown about – National Novel Writing Month – but knew the process of spewing out 50,000 words in one month was not daunting as much as impossible. The longest thing I had written so far was a term paper on Eowyn from Lord of the Rings, and it was something under 4,000 words.
The idea of Camp, I was told, was to set your own limit and write what you wanted. The amount could be as low as 10,000 with the sky as the limit. I balked and my co-writers persisted. “It’s fun!” “You can do it!” “You could win!” Win? The competitive side of me reared its ugly head. To think I could win at anything was the final draw.
I signed up nervously, setting my goal at 10,000 words and got to know the website. The best thing for me was the graphs. Not only did it show me how I was doing for the month, but it let me know exactly how many words I needed to finish per day to stay on target and finish by the end of the month. The idea that I only needed to write 323 words per day was doable. The first week went fine. I was averaging around 350 a day and some days a bit more. I made it through the honeymoon stage, but then, as it must, life interfered and I missed a day. With a real effort I brought the numbers back up and surged on.
Sailing along at just over 400, I was so excited. But then my ideas stalled. What was I doing? What ever had made me think I could do this? I wasn’t a real writer. I would never win at this rate. I was doomed to be a ‘wannabe’ for the rest of my life. Reality TV would become my life. (My mind actually works like that sometimes). I drove my family crazy. How could I back out gracefully?
Finally I talked with the other writers, many who had had their own doubts at one time. They encouraged me to stop self-editing and let the words flow unheeded. Editing is for later. Enjoy the creative process. Later you can delete and add and punctuate. It made all of the difference. The competition was back on and I was ready. Each day I worked to increase my word count and as I did my story was running onto the page and making me laugh (lucky for me, it was a comedy). I was so far ahead that a single missed day did not end the race. I could see the finish line and the end of my story careening to a spectacular climax! Actually, it was more like an ‘aha’ moment, as I tend to write comedic mysteries, but I was very pleased. So pleased, I forgot about winning, forgot about whether it was good enough, forgot to think what others would think and just enjoyed. And in so doing I won.
Epilogue – Because, don’t all good stories have one? I finished my first story at around 12,000 words and went on to sign up for my second camp in July. Pledging 15,000, I finished at 20,000. When November rolled around I was ready for the challenge. I finished one day early with a grand total of 51,000 words. I had won again. After much editing and fixing, and the help of my friend Natalie, I compiled my stories and released my first book, Murder in the Library, a cozy mystery collection of three short stories, all because of my first attempt at Camp. My advice? Do it. Make it happen. Open up and let your words out. Enjoy. And even if your word count doesn’t meet your expectations, you still will have won.