Camp NaNoWriMo Frenzy (with STUDENTS!)


camp cover photo

As if participating in NaNoWriMo during the month of November (and WINNING!) wasn’t a lofty enough task to take on, I’ve decided to invite my students to take the ride to CampNaNoWriMo during the month of April. While some had entered my second semester Writers’ Workshop class relieved to hear that November and the opportunity to write 50k words in one month had passed (after hearing of some of the first semester achievers and defectors), others were clearly disappointed.

Only last week did I hear of the Camp and the opportunity to write in whatever genre you want and set your own word count. So I put it up to a vote in my class. Two thirds elected to take the journey with me; majority rule, so even the unenthusiastic need to embark. I offered to set some guidelines as to how it will equate to a grade– as for many, that is always the bottom line. We came up with a 25k word count as a good goal to begin with (B-ish grade) and word counts in excess of  +10k will be in the “A” range and less thAn will be in the “C” range, so on & so forth. In addition to word count, they will need to submit a representative excerpt to be included with the grade along with a written reflection speaking to the process and what they’ve learned. I’d say, we’re well on our way.

camp lesson photo


So two weeks is NOT a lot of time to plan a novel; hence, I’ve condensed my usual fiction writing lessons and morphed them with some of the NaNoWriMo Ready, Set, Novel! Writer’s Workbook activities.


Lesson 1: The Inception

I. Brainstorm ideas, drawing from personal experiences, reading that resonates with you, fracturing stories (whether from novels, television shows, movies…).

II. Next, decide what genre your story will be told  in (fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, romantic, historical, literary fiction or non-fiction) and how you will tell it (linear/non-linear narrative, point of view, short/long chapters, exposition/dialogue/combination…).

III. Finally, create a loose timeline of how you see your story playing out (no details, just yet).

IV. Come up with a summary, perhaps a one sentence tag-line that you might use to sell your story.

camp dialogue

Lesson 2: All about Character

I. I provide my students with a four page dossier for them to fill out everything from what their protagonist looks like to his/her life experiences to what matters most and his/her worst nightmare, to how he/she cuts their toenails (I’m not kidding, it’s that specific). It needs to be. Every writer needs to know everything there is to know about their major characters in order to understand what motivates him/her and determine what choices he/she will make.

II. I throw a bunch of baby name books on the table and ask them to choose a name for their character that is symbolic to who he/she is.

III. Create a day-in-the-life agenda to learn what the typical actions of the character is

IV. Create a time line for the character’s life including where he/she lived and major life experiences

V. Write dialogue from your character to at least 3 other characters whom he/she might come in contact with to learn the nuances of character.

VI. Form the same knowledge of other characters in the story

camp conflict

Lesson 3: Creating the Story

I. Decide what your character wants. Every character is driven by conflict. Determine what conflicts (major and minor) your character needs to overcome to make a change.

II. Determine your story arc: inciting incidents, climax, resolution

Camp Plot arc

III. Make a more detailed outline of the events of the story including all major and sub-plot points

camp pt of view

IV. Determine the point of view your story will be told by experimenting with different points of view (ie. write part of it in the 1st person, then write the same part in 3rd person omniscient, repeat with 3rd person limited, then change the character…). Experiment, consider the pros and cons of each choice, and go with what feels right.

camp setting

V. Set the story where it needs to be. Consider your story arc. What will the major settings be? How will they be necessary to the character and your plot? Understand how setting affects your character and the story.


Lesson 4: It’s all in the Details

I. Given time, do some research on your situation. For example, the protagonist in my most recent novel is a 20-something young woman who hates her job and wants to find love. She’s a social network guru, so I needed to become one, as well. I researched blogs written by ppl. looking for the same as she in her demographic, I visited dating websites, I researched current relationship topics, I talked to people who are in similar situations… you get the gist. Uncover as many stones as you can; knowledge is power.

II. Write from what you know. Infuse aspects of your own experiences to make the writing rich and real. Not necessarily in the literal sense, but think about how you or people you actually know or know of would make decisions or behave in like circumstances.

III. Figure out the logistics. There are 30 days in April. Decide on a word count goal, divide by 30 to determine your daily minimum and stick to it, and, if one day, you fall short, plan on compensating the next day. Also figure out where/how you will keep all of your notes so they are readily accessible when you’re writing.

camp 5 senses

Lesson 5: Ready! Set! Go!

I. Now, feel confident that you are ready to begin. Feel the adrenaline pumping in competition with the fear. It’s all there and it’s all good.

II. Just write… even write through the mundane and acknowledge when you’ve written something good! Your writing will ebb and flow. Expect it, never losing sight that you can go back later and make adjustments; in fact, editing LATER will be necessary. But, for now, don’t give into the urge to edit.

III. My best advice: never end a writing session at the end of something (the end of an event or a chapter), always end in the middle, so you know, upon the next session, where to pick up. This will help alleviate writers block. And I find what while in the writing zone, the flow maintains itself, at least most of the time.

IV. Expect to feel both euphoria and frustration. Experience it. Embrace it. Share it with your cabin mates; that’s what they are there for.

V. Expect the unexpected. Allow your story to deviate from your original plan. Writing should always be an organic process. Trust it and yourself, as a writer.


And so, we are ready to begin. For one month, we will give in to literary abandon. We will become novelists, writing each class that we meet, and outside of class as well. As I mentioned earlier, I took the NaNoWriMo challenge in November and it changed me as a writer. I ended up far exceeding my 50k goal by the end of the month and writing well past that to complete a draft which ended up being 134k words that I’ve been editing ever since. When I sent my what-I-thought-to-be polished and edited draft to an agent, he said I’d need to cut 40k from the draft before he’d read it. So my goal for CampNaNoWriMo is to cut back and revise instead of write, and equally intense, perhaps more difficult process. Together, we will take this journey, whatever the outcome, supporting one another as writers.


Travel with Me


jubilant journey copyIn April, I’ll be leading my fourth tour with students. Myself, three colleagues and two of our spouses will be traveling with 27 students on a tour of England from Canterbury, to London, to Stratford Upon Avon, to Windsor, York and Howarth. So the parents can check in, I thought I’d blog each day about what we see and learn on our journey. Not only will I share some good information, but I’m sure there will be fun anecdotes and lots and lots of pictures.

Creating a sister blog to Mirror Muses seemed like a good option. This one will exclusively deal with my travels (both domestically and internationally in addition to my personal travels and those associated with school); I actually wish I’d thought of this long ago. Traveling is one of my absolute favorite things to do, and I plan on doing a lot more of it. 

I hope you will join me by following 

Aphorisms for My Children

Life lessons

To Ryan, Tyler, and Alexa (because I love you so much):

Believe in yourself because if you don’t believe in yourself, first and foremost, nobody else will either.

Live in the moment. There is nothing like the present, it’s what life is all about. If you live in the past, you’ll never truly be happy, and if you live in the future, the here and now will pass you by.

Hold your head up: literally. Good posture makes you look better and feel better, too.

Always be truthful to yourself and others. Honesty is sometimes difficult, but if you’re honest, you’ll never be led or lead others astray.

Believe in something bigger than yourself whether it’s God, or fate, or simply the good in people. When you are down, whether it’s on a small scale or a grand scale, and you will be on several occasions throughout your lives, it’s the thing that you’ll need to rely on to pick you back up in order to help you see the beauty in the world because it’s always there.

Realize there is only ONE YOU. Others may have something you desire (physical features, emotional characteristics, experiences, successes, material things), but your unique individuality is what you’ve been given in this life to offer to the world.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but learn from them. Your character is determined by the way we pick ourselves back up and carry on.

Set out to accomplish something every single day. Goals are what keep you moving forward. Make short term goals because details matter and long term goals, never losing sight of the big picture.

Dream BIG: ALWAYS! You are capable of anything you set your mind to and continue to pursue. Once you stop making forward progress on your dreams, you allow them to fade or die.

Embrace change. We are creatures of habit and change is uncomfortable, but I’ve learned through the biggest changes in my life, and the scariest ones, I’ve made the most growth, for they are what I look back on as a source of pride.

Love with your whole heart. People are the most important part of your life. You won’t look back and say I wish I’d worked more or acquired more in my life; you’ll look back and say I wish I’d spent more quality time with the people I love.

Be thankful every single day, even on the tough ones. Keeping your life in perspective– cherishing what you have been given or earned is what keeps you in the right frame of mind. And on those days when it seems like you have nothing to be thankful for, remember there are always those who have it worse than you (and pray for them or send them good energy).

Always see the glass half full. Perspective is everything!

Choose to spend your life with a partner who will love you equally, compromise often, and support you always. Think about not only what you want in a partner, but what you need. If he/she doesn’t bring out the best in you, than there is someone else out there for you. At the end of each day, you need to love who you are when you are with that person.

Work hard. Give it everything you’ve got. When you do, the rewards will be plentiful, especially the ones that make you feel good about yourself.

Always be kind. Treat others as you would have them treat you or someone you love. Kindness comes back to you tenfold when it’s what you put out there.

Take care of yourself. Take pride in yourself. It makes you feel better about yourself and, if you think others won’t notice, they do.

Face your fears; because when you do, it’s when you feel most alive.

Challenge yourself often; you’ll be amazed by what you are capable of.

Me time is important; always take time to nurture yourself whether it’s working on a hobby, spending time with friends or by yourself. It’s the fuel and the balance we need to combat the inevitable stresses in this life.

Communicate. To yourself. To your family. To your friends. To your colleagues. Always keep the lines of communication open and clear; it will help you alleviate confusion, misinterpretation, self-doubt… all the things that will weight you down.

Allow your inner voice to mediate you heart and mind. Think before you act. Weigh the pros and cons. Usually, your inner voice knows what’s right for you.

Stand up for what you believe in, even when it isn’t popular or easy.

Elevate others. Be benevolent. Pay it forward. In helping others, you really are helping to fill yourself w/ a sense of joy.

Learn to forgive: yourself and others. It really is a gift you give to yourself.

Look for the open doors in life. Realize that just because you’ve hit a dead end when you thought you were on the path to something, it’s life’s way of telling you a different path will serve you better.

Realize you are the culmination of all of your life experiences— the good and the bad. You can’t undo a choice you’ve made or a situation you’ve been faced with, but it’s these building blocks who make you uniquely you.

Embrace all that life has to offer and know there is a purpose in it.

Be silly. Laugh a lot. Find the funny. Enable yourself to never let go of that inner, unabandoned you.

Live life without regret. Think to yourself… if I don’t do this, will it be something I’ll look back on and wish I had? If the answer is yes, you must force yourself to do it even when it’s scary. You only get to live this life once.

All my <3, Mom