Writing Camp: It’s Like Summer Camp, But Not Really At All

When I was a kid I loved summer camp. 

It didn’t matter if it was day camp, sleep away camp, or pitching a tent in the back yard, I loved the smell of sunscreen early in the morning. Perhaps more importantly, I was a country bumpkin–I grew up down a dirt road in a town without traffic lights–and I loved the community feeling of all us waiting to start each day, new activities, new songs, new people, and of course unlimited bug juice.

Today I started one of the university sponsored writing camps offered by my institution’s Graduate Resource Center. This experience was, in some ways, similar to those delightful camp memories: the early morning wake up call (first timers were asked to arrive at 8:00 am), the obligatory sunscreen (I live in New Mexico, duh), and the distinct feeling of uncertain possibility that I find so often accompanies early morning activities.

And no, there wasn’t a Parent Trap situation at Writing Camp.

Well, there was no bug juice. 

But they did have coffee and tea! Which was totally necessary, because I *had* to stay up half the night reading reviews of Jurassic World.

When I arrived to the *early* morning orientation, which consisted of introductions and suggestions on developing realistic writing goals, I was hesitant about exactly how this would help me with my writing.

I already participate in a writing group that meets weekly to share writing goals and progress–both long and short term–but we rarely write with one another. The camp offered by the Graduate Resource Center is one that emphasizes writing at any phase. Although I think this is a fantastic resource, I usually work well at home (must be the isolated bumpkin in me) and I was concerned that this would be, not to put too fine a point on it, a gigantic waste of my time.

But it was actually really great.

I took a project with me that I’ve been dragging my feet on: a revision of a chapter of my dissertation. After receiving comments from one of my committee members, I was proud of my product and felt like the revision process wouldn’t take so long after all. And then I moved on to other tasks: book reviews, other chapters, studying for comps, reading Jurassic World reviews, and so forth. And then all of the simple revisions became part of a longer process.

After getting some helpful hints from the group (which was thankfully, for whatever reason, comprised solely of women) I felt jittery and motivated to begin writing. The “veteran” writing camp members were able to impart some great advice that extended beyond the usual “shut up and write.” Each of the members offered advice and support regarding whatever you’re working on that day. It sounds sort of like a nightmare, but for some reason I really liked getting this type of advice/feedback from strangers.

Within the first three hours I was surprised to learn that I had completed well over my writing goals for the time allotted. What I thought would take lots of tedious time–expansion, clarification, etc.–was somehow made easier through the collective clacking of my fellow peers. When I became listless or bored (prime pacing time at my house; Oh, hey does that cactus need watering?), I found motivation from both the continuous working efforts of my peers and the crunch of the clock. Setting artificial time goals doesn’t seem to do anything for me on my own, but if you tell me lunch is at noon then I’m going to be ready for lunch.

Final Word

There is so much written about the benefits of participating in a writing group, and I think there’s something to be said about entering into a room full of supportive, likeminded writers who are not in your discipline, but simply share the need and desire to write.

While it wasn’t as fun as zip-lining or canoeing at summer camp, I would certainly recommend participating in such a writing group–if even only once–just to see how it works for you. See one of my previous posts on joining an accountability/writing group. So often we firmly believe we know what’s best for ourselves, but more often than not stepping outside of what we know is exactly what we need.

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