CampNaNo Writing Tips from Your Favorite YA Writers

If you’re a writer in the thick of NaNoWriMo or its summer counterpart, CampNaNo, you know it’s inevitable. Falling behind, hitting a block, just flat out stalling. (Trust me, been there!) It happens to the best of us. But here are some awesome fast-drafting tips from writers who’ve been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale. Now go smite that story with newfound vigor and  gumption.

“There’s no part of writing I hate more than drafting. Unfortunately, in order to get to revisions, which I love, you have to draft. I know, I know. I agree, someone should look into that. But in the meantime, this is the natural order of things. Draft, then revise. In order to get through drafting as fast as possible, I outline almost all of my books. Some outlines are detailed, some are just a list of scenes, and some I do as I write, outlining the scenes just ahead of the ones I’m working on. But outlining—or listing the scenes—means that I waste a lot less time going ‘what’s next?’ It reduces my anxiety and my panic about drafting AND helps me get to the fun stuff faster. Try outlining. See if it changes your life like it changed mine.”
—Katherine Locke, author of the Ballonmakers series and co-editor of the the anthology It’s a Whole Spiel

“Don’t feel like you have to write in order. If you are into a particular scene from your novel and you feel like you can see it really clearly one particular day, go ahead and write it while you’re feeling inspired. Hopefully, soon you’ll have a few jigsaw-puzzle pieces that are well written, and you can put them in order and start filling in the gaps as needed because those first inspired pieces will get you well on your way. Also, I separate my writing and editing selves. When I’m writing, I allow writer Padma to spew verbal vomit onto the page. If editor Padma peeks over her shoulder and says, ‘hey, that sentence stinks,’ I send her away. I don’t censor myself, don’t ask if it’s good enough or where my words are going. I shove away any nagging self doubt, because writer Padma’s goal is to get a draft down with as many words as possible. Later, editor Padma can clean up the vomit, with bleach if necessary. And when editor Padma’s working, if writer Padma shows up and wants to whine about a sentence or paragraph or chapter she loves that needs to be cut, I send her away, because it’s editor Padma’s day and her job is to see what needs to be axed and to act without sentimentality.”
—Padma Venkatraman, author of The Bridge Home

“Write in the in-betweens. I find that when I’m fast-drafting, it’s more about maximizing the stolen moments than setting aside big chunks of time to write. Writing on your phone in-between meetings or while on lunch break. Taking down quick character notes between waking up and your morning errands. Recording voice memos while you’re on a run or at the gym, and jotting things down long-hand if you’re not near a device. I also always save my draft in Google Docs so I can access it from anywhere at anytime whether I have my own computer with me or not. Finding and using those in-between minutes will add up and before you know it, you’ll have written a ton during moments that otherwise would have passed you by.”
Ashley Woodfolk, author of When You Were Everything

“I recently adopted a trick from author Kathy Appelt: micro-sprints. A lot of people do 30-minute writing sprints, but I can’t silence my inner critic for that long. I can manage it for five minutes, though. I tell myself to ignore the critic for exactly five minutes—even if the result is garbage, it’ll only be five minutes’ worth of garbage. If I run out of words, I write “help” until my brain inevitably gets bored and produces something. I use a timer—a timer is crucial!—to make sure I don’t go a second over five minutes, and then I give myself a three-minute break before doing another round. If I like what I’ve written, I add to it. If I don’t like what I’ve written, it’s easy to start over. By the end of the third micro-sprint, I’ve often hit my stride. At that point, I might start writing “for real,” or I might just keep doing micro-sprints. If I’m still not feeling it by the third round, I let myself off the hook and listen to a Sophie Kinsella audiobook, which always makes me feel better.”
—Misa Sigiura, author of This Time Will Be Different

“It’s hard to write a good book. It’s hard to write a book quickly. It’s hard to write a book, period. Even harder is to write a good book quickly, and if you want to do that, there’s one thing you can do to save a whole lot of trauma later on: think about it first. It might sound like the worst thing to do, to waste precious time by mulling over what you want to do before you start, but I promise you it will repay you later, greatly. If you’re thinking ‘but I don’t like planning my books’, fine. You don’t need to know every twist and turn; all you need is a rough idea of a few stepping stones along the way, or, at the very least, an idea of the ending. That way, whenever you get lost, you will know where you’re trying to get to. I wrote the first draft of Midwinterblood very quickly. I was only able to do that because I’d spent 30 days thinking about it before I sat down and wrote a word. The result? Seven days after that, I had a first draft.”
—Marcus Sedgwick, author of Midwinterblood and Snowflake, AZ

“My nanowrimo tip would be to outline the story in advance. This can help immensely when you have limited time to draft and want to get as much work done in a short period. Even if you don’t outline exhaustively, having an idea of the big events in your story will keep your writing flowing.”
—Nafiza Azad, author of The Candle and The Flame

“I used to dread revision, but it’s my favorite part of the process nowripping something apart and cobbling it back together again. That’s where real growth happens, but it takes faith. Before I pick up the hatchet, I write a little note to myself. Something simple (you’ve got thistrust yourselfthe only way out is throughor at the end of this there will be all the wine). Whatever it is, write it down, keep it in a special place, and every time you feel lost, pull it out to remind yourself that you can do it. You will do it. And it will be better than before. Richer. Deeper. Closer to your truth.”

—Kim Liggett, author of The Grace Year

“Reverse plot your book. Once your draft is all done, go back, chapter by chapter and write down plot points. Then create a hero journey chart to see where the plot points land. This will help automatically identify problem areas, pacing and any plot holes that you may have. It makes the editing process a bit clearer in terms of what needs to be done.”

—Nisha Sharma, author of My So-Called Bollywood Life

“Don’t be ashamed if you don’t win NaNoWriMo because you are a slow writer. I am slow and I don’t write everyday. And yet, I can still finish a book. It just takes me a lot longer than a month. In the over 10 years I’ve tried to Nano, I’ve never once finished it. Okay once I got close but only because I cheated. Fast drafting is great for some people, but for slow writers like me, it is stressful. So when everyone else is Nanoing, do me a favor and don’t let it get to you. Set your pace and just write. Nanowrimo is great for slow writers too because there is camaraderie. It feels like everyone is writing and that is a wonderful motivation. But if you don’t make the word count, that’s okay. Because at least we are still writing.”

—Ellen Oh, author of The Dragon Egg Princess

“Hello, novelists! I started fast-drafting only about a year ago, going from writing a thousand words per day to tripling that. Here’s my advice for making the shift, in the hopes it will be helpful for CampNaNo  — especially for those of you who are like me and more comfortable with revision than drafting: 1) Figure out what is supposed to happen (generally) in the upcoming 2-3 scenes you’re about to write. I found that I slowed down when I had to make lots of decisions simultaneously, so knowing where to end up was hugely helpful. 2) Set a timer for a specific time, ideally somewhere between 20-40 minutes. The timer is great because you can tell yourself I only have to write so long as the timer is going. I found it an immense relief to know that there would be a point when I could stop. 3) While the timer is going, you have to keep typing. You don’t have to go super fast, but don’t let yourself stop either. It’s okay if you need to make notes in between the actual writing about things you don’t know, things you need to research, or what’s not working — those words count too. Good luck! You’ve got this!”

—Holly Black, author of Queen of Nothing

“I always get questions about world-building, so here’s a tip for you. Put yourself in your narrator’s shoes and think: what would I notice first? Let’s say you just strolled into your neighborhood park—are you the kind to notice the boisterous children? Or the leaves drifting from their branches? The breeze that smells of freshly turned earth? Putting yourself in your character’s shoes can help you construct their surroundings in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Once you’re done drafting, you can always, always add to it. Remember: you can’t dress up something that doesn’t exist. For a long drafter like me, what I love about CampNaNo is that it forces us to just write. Otherwise, it’s so easy to get caught up on market trends and publishing, about the fact that the line you just wrote isn’t worded the way you want, and that your main character isn’t as dramatic as you like. Finishing a draft is the hardest part! You can’t publish what you don’t have, and sure can’t edit what you don’t have. So free up your mind, think of your story, and get it all down—in any form you can. Best of luck!”

—Hafsah Faizal, author of We Hunt the Flame 

“I love NaNoWriMo and CampNaNo—at no other time during the year are my word counts as abundant. I have the community aspect to thank; it’s exciting to join my fellow writers in drafting a whole bunch of words in only a month. I plot and pre-write and complete character sketches to prepare for any NaNo experience, which definitely boosts my productivity, but my secret to fast drafting a NaNo project? Brackets. Instead of pausing to consider a name, or Google a location, or research a complicated recipe, I leave a note in the draft, bracketed. For example, {research common Irish surnames} or {describe setting in greater detail} or {add baking technique } and then… I move on. Brackets help me maintain momentum. They keep me from falling into research blackholes. They allow me to focus on getting the story—incomplete and flawed as it may be—onto the page. When my first draft is done, when I’m ready to tackle revisions, I use the “find” function to locate all of those bracketed notes and get to work addressing them. But until then, brackets give me permission me charge through a fast first draft with very few backward glances.
—Katy Upperman, author of How the Light Gets In

“You, sweet babe, are an artist. Dive heart-first into all that ancestral energy. Be the sky. Draft big. Your daydreams deserve wild applause and bouquets of dandelions. Ok, so you’re stuck. Get unstuck. That’s what other people’s words, aches, and revelations are for, for all of us to become unstuck, so we can fly free. First and forever: take up allllll the space. Project McQueen onto the largest wall around you. Press play on Sounds & Colors by the Alabama Shakes. Add sugar to your coffee and get to work. Use giant post-its and bright yellow notecards to build that creative wave you see in your brain. Write it. Save it. Design a light installation dedicated to your character descriptions with songs by La Lupe, one red curtain and all the votivas. Reimagine yourself as a Mickalene Thomas painting mixed with a bag of pop rocks. Draft because you’re wildly in love with the world around you. Tl;dr: Write down your ideas. Find the thread. Weave’em together nice and easy. Get out of your own way. Have fun with the damn story, ok?”
—Gabby Rivera, author of Juliet Takes a Breath

“Don’t quit! Try to hit your daily word goal, but if you fall short…don’t quit. Even if you only write fifty percent of your total word goal by the end of Camp NaNoWriMo, that’s still more words than you had before you started. Anything that brings you closer to finishing your novel is a win.

—Kami Garcia, author of Teen Titans: Raven 

“Remember that you can set your own goals for Camp NaNo—you don’t have to write 50,000 words. You don’t even have to draft! This past NaNoWriMo, for example, I set a goal of only 25,000 words. So although I’d hoped to hit 50,000 words, I knew from the get-go I probably wouldn’t. And the reality was that I didn’t — which was fine! I rounded out the month with 35,000 words. 10K more than my goal and an awesome amount of progress. Or there are other things you can do during NaNoWriMo. If you’ve got a book that needs revising, do that instead! Or commit to spending two hours a day brainstorming and outlining a new book. There’s just so much camaraderie and excitement during Camp NaNo, it’s worth tapping into it in any way you can. And progress is progress, no matter the scale or form!”
—Susan Dennard, author of the Witchlands series

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