Camp NaNo and the Zero Draft

The Office of Letters and Light, aka the folks behind NaNoWriMo, have finally caved to the demand for a ‘WriMo-style challenge during a different time of the year. As such, today kicks off the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo, a “light” version of NaNoWriMo that lacks the organized off-line social aspects of the November novelling frenzy. To make up for this, apparently, Camp ‘NaNo takes place over two months, with the challenge to write at least 50,000 words per month. Participants can pick one month, or go for both.

I might have joined in if I’d had more warning, but by the time I found out about it I was already deep into writing Dominion, and I’ll probably still be writing it, albeit wrapping up, next month, too. If they were doing the off-line stuff, particularly the write-ins, I might have declared myself a “NaNo Rebel” and done it anyway, just continued to work on my current book at my own pace but used it as an excuse to get out and be social for a change. But without that, there’s not really an incentive for me to take part, at least not this year.

I’m a little surprised about the months they chose to have it in. One of the main criticisms I’ve seen about the NaNoWriMo Prime is that it falls during one of the busiest months of the year, with people having to work around Thanksgiving preparations and, oftentimes, writing thesis papers and studying for finals. So you might have expected that they’d have chosen a less busy time of year than a month with yet another major U. S. holiday, and one during which a lot of families plan their summer vacations, followed by a month during which much of the country is starting back to school.

But none of that has anything to do with my decision not to participate. I already mentioned the lack of social gatherings, but that’s not my only incentive to hunker down and hammer out my 1,667 words per day every November. In five years of doing NaNoWriMo, I’ve learned that the most useful thing I get out of it is what I call my Zero Draft.

I think others call this an Exploration Draft. Whatever you call it, it’s some combination of expanded outline, character sketch and actual manuscript. I call mine a Zero Draft because I usually end up tossing it out and re-writing the actual First Draft from scratch. That might make my Zero Draft sound like a waste of time, but it has proven to be an immensely helpful tool over the years. It helps me get to know my characters, my settings and where my story needs to go, what works and what doesn’t. When writing my Zero Draft, I have the freedom of knowing nobody but me will ever see it, which makes it so much easier to be experimental, try new twists and turns–basically, throw everything I’ve got at the wall to see what sticks.

I wrote my Zero Draft for Dominion of the Damned during 2009’s NaNoWriMo, and even though I only made it to 30K words before life intervened and forced me to drop out, those 30K words that I have never bothered to look at again have gone a long way toward helping the current draft to flow smoothly and the story to come together. When I sat down to write this draft a few months ago, I already knew the characters; I had confidence in their voices, and in my settings’ sense of place, and in what needed to be done. I haven’t had writer’s block once since I started (and here’s hoping I didn’t just jinx myself). All hail the Zero Draft.

I still plan to do NaNoWriMo again this November. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll be “zero drafting” the sequel to Dominion (yup, already planning a sequel) or whether I’ll take a break from that world to explore this YA fantasy. Whichever I decide to go with, I look forward to getting to know it better.

As for any Camp NaNo Campers on my list, good luck, and have fun.