My Top Five Lessons from the First Week of Camp NaNoWriMo

We’re coming to the end of the first week of Camp NaNoWriMo, and although some days have been better than others and there are always those inevitable moments when I feel like I should just give up, I feel like I’ve gotten off to a pretty good start. The project I’m working on, by the way, is a Once Upon a Time episode entitled “Ghosts of the Past” (you can check out the details on my camper profile here).

My classmates expressed an interest in me talking a little more about NaNoWriMo on the blog, and while I don’t think this is an appropriate place for me to write about every negative thought and bout of self-deprecation that comes up over the month (that’s what Tumblr is for), I did think that this would be a good time to look back on this first week and reflect on a few of my experiences and what I’ve learned from them. That being said, here are the top five lessons I’ve learned during the first week of Camp NaNoWriMo.

5. Getting ahead of word count is the norm, not a reason to stop writing

Camp NaNoWriMo graph

My current word count goal for the month is 10,000 words, which comes to about 334 words a day, or a little less than two pages. Which basically means that I only have to write about 450 words to be able to feel really, really good about myself when I look at the graph comparing my daily goals to my actual progress. But I can’t let myself slack because of this; if I can write more, I know I have to do it. Why? I know what I’m trying to do is hard, and I can foresee a time when it’s going to be hard to hit these daily goals because of sheer writer’s block if nothing else. So it’s important for me to get ahead while I can.

4. Write now, expand plot later


I wrote a tentative outline for this script before I started, and I thought it was pretty good. But right now I’m starting to get a little nervous because I’m further down the outline than I expected to be at this point and yet I’m only on page 16 out of what should be 50-60. I guess the plot wasn’t as elaborate as it needed to be. But some of the twists that have come into play so far, and others that I’ve thought about and haven’t written yet, have only come to me as I was writing. So for now, I suppose the best course of action is to write what I have planned and flesh it out as the ideas come.

3. I’m NOT going to be applying for a fellowship within the next couple of months

Disney ABC Creative Talent Development

Part of the reason I chose my current project was that I heard about this writing fellowship program that ABC does that lasts for a year, and one of the application materials is a script for an existing ABC show. And I thought, “Wow, it’s too bad that I don’t watch any ABC shows, especially ones about fairy tale characters living in the modern world with lots of neat plots and characters that I find really interesting. It’s really too bad about that.”

This past week, though, I was looking into it a little more, and it turns out that the program starts in January. Which means that I can’t apply this year, since I’ll still be in school this coming January. Am I disappointed? Not a bit. I’m going to need all that time to get my writing to where I need it to be. But the lesson learned here is that you really need to do your research, kids, especially when you’re planning for the future.

2. Character voice is kind of a big deal

Once Upon a Time characters

Writing instructors love to say that character voices should be so distinct that you can cover up the names on a page and still know who’s talking. Personally I’ve always been a little skeptical about that, but working with the Once characters has taught me that it really does need to be true. Every time I bring a new character into a scene, and sometimes even before and after I write a line, I have to stop a minute and think, “Okay, how does this character talk? Is this something that the character would say? Should I restructure the sentence a little, changing one word for another, or would they say something else entirely?” And realistically, that’s something I need to be doing for my own characters as well. I can’t wait to see how this experience informs my original work.

1. People still think writing for TV is glamorous


My view is that serious writers can’t really afford to have a romanticized view of the writer’s life because the truth is that it’s a struggle, and it continues to be a struggle even after you get that elusive writing assignment or spec sale. But last Thursday, I was reminded that it’s still a really cool thing to do.

I was having dinner with some of the other people who work at the school newspaper, and one of my fellow writers asked me if I was working on anything new. I told him I was working on a Once Upon a Time spec. It just so happens that he watches the show, and he started asking me about it (what it was about, why I was doing it, whether it was actually going to get made, etc.). Then he stood up and announced, “Sam is writing an episode of Once Upon a Time.” Which led to another round of affirmations, questions about whether it was going to get made, and generally really enthusiastic support.

My initial reaction to something like that is to think Well, they wouldn’t be so nice if they actually read it, ha ha, and then move on. But once in a while, it doesn’t hurt to put the self-loathing aside and realize that no matter what else happens, I’m writing an episode of one of my favorite shows, and one day I’ll be able to share it with other people, even if it is just a few of my friends. And that is what makes it all worthwhile.

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