Last Week of Camp: Ready to Start

This month, in addition to reading, writing and revising poetry, I’ve been learning story craft as a way of participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, April’s more relaxed version of the annual National Novel Writing Month program. (Camp is also held in July.) In this post, I explore some of what I’ve been doing and learning as I ponder the mysteries of motivation.


The more relaxed approach that is Camp NaNoWriMo suits me fine since I’m just now fleshing out my story outline, and with less than a week before the “event” technically ends. I count this as an accomplishment for one who has never considered herself much of a storyteller and who is new to the practice of novel writing.

It certainly helped to have fewer of us participating in write-ins in person and to be a host for some of them each week–more pressure to make progress, I guess.

The pace of completion of this detailed outlining step in particular makes me impressed with myself, mainly because I tend to second-guess the value of the stories I think of telling. By outlining my intentions, I’ve given weight and form to a story that has not even been written yet.

Why should such a small step impress me? Why does being “impressed” matter?

It’s true that November’s NaNoWriMo more thoroughly facilitates the steady, somewhat high-paced push of “writing with reckless abandon” for thirty days straight than do her spring and summer cousin events. Camp is also flexible in terms of content, genre, form, purpose, and word count, whereas November’s goal is always 50,000 words by midnight on December 1.

Camp-Nanowrimo-No-Sign-300px-RGB2_400x400In both cases, “winning” is a formality and having some semblance of a recognizable tale when you reach the 50K happens only by the honor system.

No one reads the final product you upload for official validation to be classed among the winners. It’s all self driven.

In this way, for me at least, being “impressed” with myself or feeling good about my progress is crucial to furthering it.

My approach to Camp has been to study how stories are formed: brainstorming, researching theories, story structures, tools, and techniques, then outlining, profiling main characters, and then expanding that outline into a full, novel-length set of plot points.

It’s this last step that I was able to start and finish in one four-hour sitting, yesterday during our region’s Sunday write-in at Panera.

Now that I’ve reached this milestone, I am much more excited to move forward with composition of the story itself. I know what story I’m trying to tell, and I know the frame work within which I must work. I even know some of the symbolism, foreshadowing, irony and other literary elements I want to incorporate, and am starting to see exactly how I can accomplish them.

In other words, the fact that Camp NaNoWriMo is ending has less of a subduing effect on me than it has at the end of the last several Novembers. It’s easy to lose steam as the holidays approach, and I felt rather lulled into passivity by the achievement of “winning” NaNoWriMo each time. My stories became less important in themselves, so abandoning them was no great tragedy.

Still, it is a let-down. Some people are “pantsers,” writing by the seat of their pants without much forethought or planning, and certainly no outlining. I have tried that approach and found it unsatisfactory, so this Camp I used as a stepping stone toward becoming a bona fide “planner” of stories (who also happens to write them).

Aided also by regularly blogging and committing to taking my poetry more seriously, I may not even need something like Camp in order to finish this new story. But if I do, July awaits. . . .

I’ve always been better at planning than doing in many ways, so I was reluctant to begin my experience during my first NaNoWriMo in 2011 with too much planning.

Truth be told, I couldn’t help indulging in excessive research on the front end the first year. I found the subject of the Native Americans and particularly the Salish language quite fascinating as I prepared starting in September to write, during November, a story about a white teen raised by ranchers in Montana who comes across a mysterious wolf mask carving on her recently deceased parents’ ranch and begins her adventure. (I wonder what ever happened to that first novel’s protagonist, Emily. Perhaps I’ll return to the text of What the Wolf Knows some day and find out . . . by finishing the story.)

Whichever approach I take, though, I find that it’s practice and experience–and just going for it–that ultimately propel my development as a story writer.

So, although in some ways, my structured approach to a story beginning was rather formulaic, it served as its own kind of “going for it.” I’d never outlined a story so thoroughly before, after all. And it was only after writing a few rough novels, all four of which remain effectively incomplete stories today, that I had the confidence and motivation to teach myself how to plan them well and thoroughly, too.

I’m still in the process of planning the story, but after yesterday, I’m better prepared to write the story I planned. I had already begun some composition of the back story, but now I’m ready to charge ahead to write the main plot.

When you’re not in school formally and you don’t work at, with, or for an organization with a built-in structure for your work, i.e., when you’re a writer out there essentially on your own (albeit with a local support community and the Internet’s bounty), it’s helpful to have events like NaNoWriMo and its Camp cousins to assist with each new aspect of the creative project’s undertaking.

I realize each task can be useful if I know–that is, if I establish for myself–its purpose and see where it can lead me. Because I understand that writing is a multi-part process that is often cyclical in nature, I know that I may alter the plan just as I re-write some of the story.

As I often tell the students I tutor, each phase or step of the writing process holds importance and something to teach, just as each writer has a story inside waiting to be told.

There is hope, then, that eventually I, too, will bring all the pieces together and not only tell but also share my stories.

Every active writer has self-developed approaches, processes, and unique needs to stay motivated and be productive. This has simply been a slice of what mine look like right now.

“Stories matter.”  #CampNaNoWriMo2016

Happy writing.

On Process: Verse Writing, Part III: Home Stretch and Final Draft

On Part II

In my last post, I laid down a heavy, lengthy development process for your consideration. Now I feel giddy and light with the surety of being finished and knowing it truly has been worth the effort. In this post, I’ll reveal how that happened and share some of my favorite resulting lines of verse from my original elegy. It’s so exciting to be able to deliver on the promise! I’m relieved and a bit surprised, actually. . . .

Feel free to comment or tweet @Carrielt37.


The Verse Writing Process, Part III: Home Stretch and Final Draft

I have been through the wilderness and come out the other side refreshed, enlightened, and satisfied–about my poetry writing, that is. And let me assure you, this is an extremely rare feeling when I write poetry. While the drafting phase was somewhat cyclical and cumulative, toward its end, three distinct steps emerged: (1) final development/drafting and revision, (2) evaluation and final revision, and (3) “proofreading” or polish.

Final development/drafting and revision

At the beginning of this phase, which was after that 15+ step development period, I have to admit I was right in the thick of the woods, wondering how the heck I was going to find my way out.question-mark-maze-8643312This phase included a somewhat disorganized process of line scansion for meter, writing and rewriting to balance rhymes with language and ideas, adding ideas both in meter and disregarding it, plucking individual lines and isolated stanzas or series of stanzas from earlier drafts to place in the next iteration, and ultimately, leaving a ton of poetry behind. It was messy, but those discards may bear fruit elsewhere, some other time. It also took several days of wrestling with and ignoring the work, by turns.

In between sessions, I watched the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which (spoiler alert) ends in Spock’s death, caught a glimpse of a tabloid headline targeting Nimoy’s demons, and read an article featuring synopses of the author’s top five favorite Spock-focused books. I allowed these experiences to inform and influence the poem’s development, adding ideas and reflecting on, and sometimes slightly altering, the ones I’d already put down.

Once the larger mess was behind me, I felt freer to re-order stanzas, sections, and lines within stanzas, and to revise content within and across stanzas. The poem began to take real shape.

Know_Your_Limitations_Then_DefyEvaluation and final revision

Although there were moments when the evaluation period seemed both self-congratulatory and extraneous, by the end, I felt thoroughly reassured of my poem’s finished status.

First, I assessed the progression of ideas after having done all that rearranging in the last step. Check. Then, I looked at how well the parts fit together as labeled with Roman numerals, reflecting the turning points in that progression. I moved the middle three numbers up or down one or two stanzas to improve the divisions.

Next, I gave final thought to the detailed poetic aspects: rhyme scheme, meter and rhythm, point of view between personal and universal, Spock and Leonard, topic focus and shifts therein, elegiac characteristics, other poetic devices, the alignment of content with form, the symmetry or circularity of the poem’s five-parted structure, and the effectiveness of repetition of concepts. Check, check, check, check, check! See Poetry Foundation’s Glossary Terms for more information about poetic devices.

There may be dozens of other little decisions I made more automatically based on my experience with writing and reading iambic tetrameter, studying sample elegies, and being an active poet and poetry reader for most of my life.

For some examples, I strove to avoid filler words that are empty of meaning–too many prepositions or articles–used alliteration, assonance, consonance, internal rhyme, near rhyme (end rhymes that are not exact, a.k.a. off rhyme or slant rhyme), what I hope are subtle puns, a formal tone with archaic word choice, a corresponding inversion of syntax (think Yoda speak) and interjections both to make rhymes work better more often, and rhetorical questions.

Decisions_arrows_sproutingSpecific to this poem were intentional placements of Spock sayings, physical and personality descriptions, multiple meanings for terms such as “dust,” “space,” and “soul,” veiled allusions to real life and other celebrities, and practice imitating the usual features of the elegy’s form and spirit. All of these decisions continued from early development through final polish.

Incidentally, I neglected to mention in my first post of this series the prep work I did, studying and taking notes on several famous, modern elegies by the likes of Auden, Gray, Yeats, and Housman.

And to fulfill the parameters of the original assignment from The Daily Post‘s free, online course Writing 201: Poetry, I made sure I added fog as a concept and metaphor as a device into my elegy.

“Proofreading” or polish

I put proofreading in quotes because I see finalizing my own verse as a very different process from helping students clean up a piece of prose. Every choice of punctuation, preposition, noun, and pronoun change in verse writing for me is fundamentally a poetic decision more so than a matter of correction.

Still, there are corrections to make, too, usually affecting the meaning of a line, or sentence across lines, toward more precise communication of my intended message, rather than fixing true grammar errors. This last step is usually brief and includes formatting my poem into columns.

The schedule?

My journey began on February 27th, the day Leonard Nimoy died, by writing thoughts and feelings on paper. The idea development step of the process took about 3-4 days. I first starting typing things up on March 2nd. Then, from March 7th, the drafting/poem development step took 4-5 days of actual work with days off in between. I spent between 1 and 3 hours for each sitting.

Due to my flexible schedule, I varied the time of day I worked. On a few occasions, I stayed up late, drawing my juice from my night-owl tendencies, starting work at 11:30 or midnight and working until 2 or 3 a.m. (I work as an online tutor part-time during afternoons, evenings, and weekends.) In my eagerness for results, I woke up very early for me the morning of March 16th to cross the finish line.

And what about those results?

The final product is a five-part elegy of a total of 29 four-line stanzas. Here are some of my favorite parts of the elegy I wrote in honor of Leonard Nimoy and his signature creation, Spock.

The first half of part III:

Where you once dwelt a single being--
two souls' two places, space and scene--
now mystifies the Star Trek fan,
bereft the hope you'd play again.

Let none suggest unjustified
the love of you, ironic pride,
for plain as scientific fact
reflects your greatness humbly back.

Who but you could teach us best,
less science, more about ourselves?
Who but Spock win skeptic minds 
and reaffirm all humankind?

Of man, of myth, of dual soul—
one resurrected, one immortal
—how can there be a final end
to he who was and shall be friend?

The final two stanzas of the poem, part V:

We clasp the artifacts of you
to fire our hearts and douse our blues.
Galactic space, your last frontier,
asks how you feel, O pioneer.

For you, we blest, stout hearted shall
declare, “Just fine,” return the call, 
as each horizon bears us forth,
to star-lit skies, our truest north.

? How do you decide when your poem is truly finished?

? When in poetry writing does one reach a point of diminishing returns?


In my last post of this series, On Process: Verse Writing, Part IV: Reflection, I will reflect on the process as a whole, sharing a summary of lessons learned, milestones reached, and impressions of the exercise of chronicling my verse writing process.

If you’re just joining me and would like to read about how this project began, go to On Process: Verse Writing, Introduction and Part I: Motivation and follow the bread crumbs from there.

I welcome your comments or tweets @Carrielt37.