A Beginners Guide to Camp NaNoWriMo

So… it’s that time of year again. The sun is (finally) shining. Ice cream shops are at capacity and suddenly the idea of that summer holiday seems like a really good plan. For those of us who aren’t lucky enough to be escaping to Paris or Prague this summer for a bit of writing TLC, we have to look closer to home for our writing retreat.

Cue Camp NaNoWriMo. Here’s everything you need to know about the (free) writer’s retreat of the season.

Beginner's Guide to Camp NaNoWriMo

1. What is Camp NaNoWriMo?

Camp NaNoWriMo is the little sister of November’s National Novel Writing Month where writers from around the world stock up on caffeine and chocolate, say goodbye to their loved ones and lock themselves in their office with their laptop and tackle the rather daunting prospect of 50,000 words in a month.

Camp NaNoWriMo currently runs twice a year, once in April and once in July.

2. How is it different to NaNoWriMo?

Flexibility on word count. In the November event, you have to write to the 50,000 word target. Camps are much more fluid. You choose your own goal. Anything from 500 to 100,000 words. Whatever you feel you can get done in the time prescribed. Which is kinda awesome when, like me, you are juggling four hundred other balls at the same time. This year, I’m keeping my goals lower (I’m thinking 25,000) because I have an essay due in at the end of the same period. Oh yeah, and if something happens mid month and you have to drop the target, that’s fine too. You have until (I think) the last 7 days of the session to finalise your word count goal.

3. What can I write?

Anything. Yup. You heard me. Anything. There are more or less no rules with the Camps. Screenplays. Second drafts. Poems. I know a lot of people who choose to spread their word count across three or four different projects. It’s one of the things I absolutely love about the camps. It means no matter where you are in your project, you can take part. I’ve struggled to take part in November in the past because timing hasn’t worked. I’ve been editing or drafting second or third runs which doesn’t suit the 50k sprint mentality but equally I haven’t wanted to take a whole month out to work on a different project. Camp mitigates any of these problems. Wherever you are at with your writing, you can enter it into the camps.

4. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo before? Should I do that one first?

I’m biased on this one. Funnily enough, I’d been wanting to do NaNoWriMo for years but timing never worked out. When I heard about the camps, I wasn’t initially intending to take part. It sort of happened by accident. I picked up my The Butterfly Children project about a week before the April camp was due to start and I thought “what the hell” and signed it up as a bit of an experiment.

And loved it.

I was so productive, made so many useful contacts and just really had a lot of fun. I’ve more or less taken part in every camp since. I’ve also done NaNoWriMo itself since.

To me, they are quite different experiences. The November session is the high stakes table. It was still fun but I found it more stressful and there was less of a community feeling to it without the cabin element (see below). It’s where you go when you want to push yourself. It’s the London Marathon. The camps are more like the Liverpool Marathon (for non-Brits, shorter and waaaaaaaaaay less competitive). It’s a social event. You wear silly hats and tutus and spend as much time debating the Oxford comma rule as you do writing.

5. Where do I find this holiday destination?

Check it out: https://campnanowrimo.org

6. You keep mentioning cabins? We aren’t going anywhere are we?

Sadly no. But again, another element of Camp NaNoWriMo I really love. You have a choice of three things. Either you can write solo in a cabin on your own. Or you can set up a private cabin of you and other writer of your choosing or (and my favourite) you can choose to be “put” in a cabin of eleven other strangers. You have lots of choices (e.g. people writing the same genre, people writing for the same audience, writers in the same time zone etc…) but essentially it’s a giant mixer. I would really really suggest choosing the randomised cabins. It is a great way to meet new writers, listen to their awesome story ideas and together you get to go on the writing journey for the next month. And hey, if you don’t like who you get the first time, you always have the option to move cabins.

Talking of cabins, I’m trying something new this year. As usual, I will be taking part in July’s camp and I’ll be setting up a cabin. I would love to write with some of you guys. If you want to be in the same cabin as me, my NaNo name is M Bransdale. Leave your NaNo name tag in the comments section below and the first eleven get to rock up on July 1st with me. I don’t care about time zone or genre or anything like that. I’m just looking for eleven writer’s as excited and passionate as I am.

7. So how many times have you done Camp NaNoWriMo?

This’ll be my fifth time rocking up to the camp. I’ve hit my target three times out of the last four. Check out my profile: http://campnanowrimo.org/campers/m-bransdale/novels

8. How do I sign up?

Couldn’t be easier. Just follow the link above and then the instructions from the good folks at NaNo and you’ll be a member in no time. FYI, they don’t spam you with endless emails so don’t worry about putting in an email address. Again, it is completely up to you how much or how little information you put up. Just remember that the more you put out there, the more you can get back. I try to supply at least a brief synopsis for each of my projects where I can.

9. What do I get out of it?

Aside the connections and progress in your project, there are also a load of cool freebies and prizes for anyone who gets to their finish line. As you set this yourself for Camp NaNoWriMo, this is normally pretty doable for most folks. In previous years, there have been substantially reduced subscriptions to programmes such as Scrivener and huge deals on getting books printed, that sort of thing. They really do a great job at providing awesome treats for us writers. You can also help them out (though it is completely voluntary) by donating to help them keep the programme running and buying their merch. They have tee-shirts, posters, mugs every year with the theme of the camp. You also get your very own certificate and cool badges to add to your blog.

And of course, the most important,

10. How do I know my work is safe?

To “win” and get your work “validated” you have to copy your novel up to the NaNo website for checking. I will be honest, the first time I found out about this, I was not particularly happy. I think it would be fair to say that most writers are very protective (and for good reason) of their work. However, please note:


And for the record, I’ve never had a problem and I’ve validated every project I’ve done (including November sessions that’s six projects).

I hope I see you guys at the camp this July. Next week, I’ll talk about prep and what to bring to get the most out of your time at the camp.

Til then, so long and happy writing my fellow scribes. And remember, leave your NaNo names below and I’ll start setting up a cabin.

Maxi x