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.

Five-Phrase Friday (9): “Slings and Arrows…”

“. . . of outrageous fortune!” (Hamlet, the “To be, or not to be” speech): These we suffer.

First, let me say this week’s English phrase celebration covers all of my blog’s major focus areas: language play, animals, Outlander, free speech, reading, comedy, poetry, grammar, creativity, education, TV, and even Shakespeare! This post has it all–something for each reader. So enjoy!

Ordinarily I don’t condone name-calling, even in jest (unless you really know that the person can take it). But since it’s William Shakespeare we’re talking about, and since many words he used in his insults have fallen into disuse lately, what the heck! Let’s have some fun.

This week’s phrase-praising post deals in threes by looking at (1) bawdy insults featured in Shakespeare’s plays, (2) Outlander TV show insults identified by episode, and (3) a review of Five-Phrase Friday grammar lessons–your favorite!

Several online sources deal with Shakespearean insult creation, but MIT provides a succinct set of lists in three columns for your three-step, mix-and-match pleasure. They call it the Shakespearean Insult Kit.

How it works: Take an adjective from column 1, one from column 2, and a noun from column 3, put them together, and ‘zounds! Your own tailor-made Shakespearean insult.

This week’s collection of phrases comprise some of my favorite bawdy-leaning combinations from the kit.

Grammar Alert! Hey, look at that. Did you notice in that sentence the omnipresent type of word highlighted in previous Five-Phrase Friday (FPF) posts? FPF 4 and FPF 6 use or mention it, and FPF 8 uses it in one of the featured phrases. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to use a lot of these in my writing, especially my poetry. Final hint: This grammatical element shows up every week in another way as well.

Now, as for these insults, delivery is key. Each line must be shouted or growled aloud, convey real or mock anger/disgust at the target (be it animate or not), and follow the word “Thou” or “You,” just as one might with modern-day provoked and provocative name-calling. Relish the triumvirate of insulting results:

1. “Thou beslubbering reeling-ripe strumpet!”

2. “Thou mewling rump-fed codpiece!”

3. “Thou ruttish swag-bellied lewdster!”

4. “Thou frothy guts-griping pignut!”

5. “Thou gleeking knotty-pated canker-blossom!”

Bonus #1: “You cockered sheep-biting moldwarp!”

Bonus #2: “You spongy pox-marked nut-hook!”

Okay, now shake it off if you felt any of that being directed at you, go to the MIT kit, and fire back with gusto! (I can take it, I promise.)

With a nod to wild(and domesticated)life, other words I like in the kit use animals in part or whole:

bat-fowling, goatish, barnacle, beetle-headed, boar-pig, bugbear, currish, coxcomb, flap-dragon, flirt-gill, fly-bitten, harpy, hedge-pig, horn-beast, maggot-pie, malt-worm, pigeon-egg, ratsbane, venomed, toad-spotted, wagtail

Oooh, I like that last combo: “You venomed toad-spotted wagtail!” Or how about “Thou currish beetle-headed ratsbane!”? Now that’s a hybrid mutant!

Grammar Note: You may notice in some of these a type of word similar to the one hinted at above in the “Grammar Alert!” These words from column or group 3 fall distinctly into the noun category. What is the name for this type of noun?

And how are these insults typically used? Some high schools and colleges use exercises with these examples in English class units on Shakespeare to help students read the Bard’s works with greater awareness of the comedy, more fun, and, thus, more positive motivation. I divided one of my classes into two teams for a shouting match once–very funny! (I wonder what our extreme PC college culture has done to this tradition.)

Also, my favorite TV show Outlander demonstrates the use of similar insulting words, sampled here in tripartite order for your experimental three-step dance:

clarty (ep105)
mendacious (ep109)
muckle (ep112/ep114)
rutting (ep108, ep109)

ill-formed (ep115)
foul-mouthed (ep109)
stripe-backed (ep109)
whey-faced (ep105)

bugger (ep107)
coof (ep107)
scold (ep109)
welp (ep110)

For an invented example, the melange “You muckle whey-faced coof!” samples one word each in order from ep112 “Lallybroch”/ep114 “The Search,” ep105 “Rent,” and ep107 “The Wedding.”

Of course, our protagonist Claire prefers her own 20th-century insults not fit for general consumption, and then there’s all that Scottish Gaelic stuff. . . . All in good time.

Do you Outlander fans know which character(s) spoke each word in the insult? Quiz next week.

No, really. Next Friday I’ll (1) confirm the character and scene for each word in the above insult, (2) present select lines from Outlander for my phrases, and (3) unveil the answers to today’s 2 word-type questions.

For those who just can’t get enough 18th-century Scottish/English epithets and lewdness, curse your way over to either of these Outlander-related posts on my blog:

By the way, you can vote for your favorite movies, music, TV shows, and players for the People’s Choice Awards 2016 starting this week.

Cheers, you itinerant pretty-minded logophiles!