Camp Nightmares

In the month of July, I made an unexpected enemy: it was in my Gmail inbox. Every few days or so, without fail, it passive aggressively reminded me that I was a failure. Over and over and over again. With a huge smile on its dastardly face. I must admit that I played some part in this, the proverbial Doctor Frankenstein creating a monster that did not want to be and now faced with its incessant existential cries (that’s how the plot to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein goes right???). It started off innocently enough:

"Dear Thando,

Welcome to Camp NaNoWriMo. We look forward to helping you reach your writing goals, and just getting your rambles out there in the world. This is the first step! 

Cheers!”

 

 

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is an annual event that takes place in the month of November. Amateur and professional writers and everyone in between settle down in front of empty Word documents, blank journals and typewriters and attempt to write the first draft of a 50 000-word novel. It’s a pretty big deal in the literary world (yes, I know this makes it sound pretentious) and has produced some of the best and most popular books in recent memories from the Lunar Chronicles, Water For Elephants- which was adapted into a movie starring Robert Pattinson- to one of my personal favourites and the near-perfect The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. More than anything, it encourages people to get their words out there, no matter how horrible they are. There’s always time to edit later. It is the perfect project for overthinkers such as myself and is a great reminder that I’m not the only one struggling with my craft. But every year I’d make up an excuse not to take part. This year would be different – I was going to take pre-emptive measures. And that’s where the camp comes in. It acts as a practice round for the real thing; with a writing month in April and July where writers set their own goals and try to reach them in 30/31 days. I signed up to write in July.  

"Hi Thando,

You haven’t started your writing project yet. Not to worry, we’ve placed you in a group with a bunch of other campers so that they can add an extra layer to your judgement cake.

We know you got this, writer!”

 

 

I spent the first few days merely changing what my writing project would actually be. From the initial 50 000-word target, I switched to 30 000 words and then changed my novel-to-be to journal entries before eventually settling on short stories and a 10 000-word target. Gmail never stopped mocking me. I even dreamed about giant exam pads chasing me through the Newlands Forest while I swore on my life that I wouldn’t let the trees that were cut for my book die in vain. 

"Hello Thando,

Trouble with your characters? Trudge on and you may just stumble onto a gem. Or you know, just keep being a disappointment to yourself and others.

Happy Writing!”

 

 

In the end, I managed to get some words on paper, thanks to the encouraging emails and some help from a person I appointed as my personal “stop procrastinating” coach. They were horrible, and I only made to about a third of my goal, but a start is a start and I still have a couple of months to prepare my mental state for the real thing. Wish me luck!