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My Dream Writer's Summer Camp

Most writers are acquainted with NaNoWriMo. Taking place every November, National Novel Writing Month challenges participants to write the first draft of a novel in the span of a mere thirty days.

NaNoWriMo is the main event, but it's not the only time of year to take up the gauntlet! Each April and July, the team behind the main NaNo event hosts Camp NaNoWriMo.


Camp NaNo is more flexible, as you're encouraged to set your own goals instead of aiming for November's firm 50,000 wordcount and can work on any writing project you want, old or new.


All of the buzz around Camp NaNoWriMo in my social media feeds during the past few weeks got me thinking about today's topic: what would my dream writer's summer camp look like?


I didn't have the traditional summer camp experience as a kid. I did theatre camp for a couple of years until it was disbanded and one or two weeks at a Girl Scouts camp even though I wasn't in a troop, and one summer at a rocket science-themed camp when I was nine, but didn't do the sleep-away at a campground summer camp. I also volunteered at the summer day program hosted by my high school in my teen years; it was a tech school and opened some of its trades to middle schoolers.


Nevertheless, I've been entertaining the idea of a writer's summer camp and wanted to share what I came up with in a fun, casual entry on the blog.


The Hypothetical Where And Other Incidentals

The first thing to figure out when planning a writer's getaway (even an imaginary one) is where you're going.


For this writerly summer camp, I'm picturing it being lakeside, somewhere up in the mountains. Someplace woodsy. A little hideaway from the "real world."


Plus, it'd be a nice little nod to the Lake Poets.

We'd be staying in cabins rather than tents. If I were in charge of the arrangements, I think I would assign cabins based on campers' genres, ie have the horror cabin and the romance cabin, so there would be some common interests. I'm also picturing these cabins having one or two bedrooms complete with the traditional bunk beds and a common area with basic amenities like a coffee pot and an electric kettle for tea and hot chocolate.


There's also the matter of duration. How long this camp will run.


In my mind, this would be at least a four-day event over a long weekend, but a full week or even ten days would be cool, too. I wouldn't necessarily want to go beyond that timeframe since, unlike when we were kids, we do have real-world responsibilities we cannot abandon for long.


For context going forward, this post will be based on the single-week-long premise. I'm also envisioning this as an event for writers ages 21 and up, with all genres and experience levels welcome.


Campers would be advised to bring whatever writing tools they need, but knowing that electrical outlets may not always be readily available apart from the cabins (chances are you'd likely see me using my Alphasmart Neo2). Notebooks and pencils would be provided as part of the welcome package I'll get more into the details of in the next section.


Arrival

A camper's first matter of business upon arrival would be a visit to the check-in station. There, they would be given a name tag that also lists their genre (more as a means of being able to identify cabin mates). They'd also be given the aforementioned complimentary notebook and pencil set in a welcome package along with any general information like the rundown of each day's events, and a commemorative T-shirt to wear for group photos on the last day, all in a tote bag.


Once checked in, campers would be able to head to their cabin and put their stuff away. As time allows, they might also get to know their cabin mates or explore the grounds.


Icebreakers At The Ice Cream Social

Camp would officially kick off mid-day with an ice cream social.

I'd love for there to be a sundae bar with all kinds of toppings, but would also include the standard ice cream truck fareeverything from ice cream sandwiches and Firecrackers to Spiderman and Spongebob popsicles with their lopsided gumball eyes.


During the ice cream social, there would be some opening remarks and a chance for the camp counselors to introduce themselves. During Camp NaNoWriMo, selected authors serve as counselors who join in Zoom events and Instagram takeovers while sharing writerly advice. In my writer's summer camp, there would be one camp counselor for each genre in a similar role, minus the Zoom and Instagram bits.


More on their workshops and other activities in a smidge!


Formalities out of the way, the next order of business would be an ice breaker activity or two. I know a lot of folks who dislike them, but I secretly enjoy some of them and think they're great for group settings like this. Plus, they feel like a summer camp requirement!


I'm thinking I would want this to be a scavenger hunt, so to speak. I remember doing one in middle school where you had to go around the classroom and find someone whose favorite color is green, find someone who has a pet dog, and so on, only being allowed to ask one question per person. When you found someone who fit the prompt, you'd have them initial the square and the first person to fill their grid would win. This could easily be reworked with more writerly questions like finding a fantasy writer or someone who uses a pen name.


After the ice cream social, campers would break off into the first of several writing sessions.


Writing Sessions And Workshops

The bulk of activities I have in mind for this imaginary writer's summer camp would be writing sessions and workshops.


The first of these would be genre-centric with the topics up to the counselor/instructor. This would also allow cabin-mates to get to know each other since, in this scenario, cabin arrangements are sorted out by genre.

There would be one or two more genre-centric sessions, but the majority would be based on various topics that aren't genre-dependent. This could be anything, and I'd love to include things like how to plot a novel, worldbuilding, perfecting your query letter, and how to navigate self-publishing. There would also be opportunities to receive peer feedback in critique circles for those who would be interested.


Campers would get to decide which workshops they want to attend. And, hopefully, there would be something for everyone (and I'd make sure to have extra copies of the materials in case someone would be interested in attending two workshops happening at the same time).


Additionally, in a perfect imagined writer's summer camp, each evening would feature a guest speaker or a panel to do a reading followed by a Q&A.


And don't worry! There would be plenty of time for freewriting or working on your WIP outside of these workshops—and other activities!


Activities Outside Of Writing

This is a summer camp, right? So, naturally, we're going to have to weave some classic summer camp activities into the schedule!


You've got to have the traditional swimming in the lake or maybe even kayaking and canoeing, water balloon fights, hiking, kickball, and yoga to name a few.

One particular must-have for me would be arts and crafts. I hear all of you Swifties out there and, yes, there can and will be friendship bracelets! But I'm also thinking this writer's camp arts and crafts would have to include an intro to bookbinding in the form of making a personalized journal. Bookmarks, candles, painting mugs, and pencil holders also come to mind.


The main thing with the arts and crafts at this camp is to shift gears and find ways to be creative outside of writing.


Board games and playing cards would be readily available including popular go-tos like Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, and Monopoly (of which there would be several editions), nostalgic games like Dealer's Choice and Don't Wake Daddy, and newer titles like Cards Against Humanity and Sheriff Of Nottingham.


In my albeit limited summer camp experience, these were reserved for rainy days only, but this writer's camp would not have access to them be determined by the weather. Feel like gathering 'round for a game of Clue in 90-degree heat and sunshine rather than hitting the hiking trail? Be my guest! Because, in all honesty, that's where you'd be likely to find me. I'm calling dibs on Professor Plum.


Mixed in with the classic summer camp activities would be some less traditional ones.


If we could pull it off, I would love to host a small escape room in a spare cabin or other building on the premises. I'm already picturing a tribute to those 80s slasher flicks! I don't know, maybe you have thirty minutes to get out before the killer gets you?


On a similar note, I'd also run a murder mystery dinner type of event one night in the camp's cafeteria.


Other unexpected ideas may include a wine tasting, karaoke night, and team Jeopardy! a la middle school pre-test review.


Each night, campers would be invited to gather around the campfire. I would love for this to be an opportunity for reflection, to share favorite bits from the day's workshops, celebrate writing wins, and bounce ideas off one another. Writing can easily become a solitary and isolating activity, so having group hangouts apart from workshops and other camp activities where writers can just chill together would be important to me.

And what would summer camp be without s'mores?


This is THE snack of the summer! Toasted marshmallow and melting chocolate between graham crackers. What's not to love?


And as you might have gathered from the ice cream social, this writer's summer camp likes to do things with a little pizzazz.


Just as the ice cream social had all sorts of toppings, s'mores around the campfire wouldn't be a simple affair. I'd provide different flavors of graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows, plus other add-ons like caramel or peanut butter candies, nuts, dried fruits, or even cookie dough. There are so many combinations and the possibilities are endless.


One of the goals of this writer's camp would be rediscovering your creative spark by trying new approaches, a vibe that would certainly carry over to the snacks.


Awards And Adieus

Summer doesn't last forever.


Eventually, this dream writer's summer camp would have to come to an end—but not without some informal pomp and circumstance.


Campers would be encouraged to wear the T-shirts they received in their welcome package to the last breakfast gathering, as there would be group photos taken at some point.


Select campers would be invited to read samples of what they've written during the workshops. These would be determined by counselors beforehand and limited to a few pages at most. It's just a way to celebrate the hard work put into the classes and the accomplishments of participants.


After the readings, instructors would have a chance to hand out awards. These could be for anything from the workshops, best line of dialogue, such as most helpful critique, best plot twist, swooniest romantic scene, and so on.


With the certificates handed out, there would be come closing remarks from the team behind the scenes. The standard stuff.


After, campers would head back to the cabins to collect their things and hit the road—hopefully with new friendships made and plenty of inspiration to draw from.





Obviously, this deam writer's summer camp is just that: a dream.


This post was simply to have fun with a frivolous idea, without having to worry about the logistics one would have to consider if they were to make it a reality.


Maybe some day, this writer's camp can come to fruition. For now, though, it's just something to amuse myself with as Camp NaNoWriMo nears its conclusion.


Also! This isn't the first time I've explored a hypothetical writing trip! Check out what my dream writing retreat would be like here.


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