Monday, November 8, 2004

Put it in writing


Don't disturb Kit Minden. She's writing.

And writing. And writing.

A demanding 1,666 words a day, which she hopes will total 50,000 words by the end of the month.

Minden is one of seven area writers participating in National Novel Writing Month, an annual event for which aspiring authors pull their writing projects from life's back burner and place them squarely on the front by penning a 50,000-word work of fiction.

And, they've got only the 30 days in November to do it.

Quantity, not quality, is the key, said Minden, founder of the Fredericksburg Writer's Workshop, a local writing group that meets twice a month at Tea Tyme & Whatnots on Caroline Street.

"The commitment is just to write it, to do what you didn't imagine you would do," Minden said.

The 30-day effort, nicknamed NaNoWriMo, was started in 1999 by Chris Baty, a freelance writer who is now the author of "No Plot? No Problem," published in October by Chronicle Books.

Back then, Baty was determined to write a novel in a month and encouraged 20 of his friends to do likewise.

"I have a personality where the simplest tasks become exhibitionistic acts, with people looking and monitoring. I thought if I was accountable to someone besides my own lazy self, it would get done easier," Baty said in a telephone interview from California.

Baty and his friends knew their writing wouldn't result in stunning literary accomplishments, but that didn't matter as long as the words were out of their heads and onto a page.

"The ultimate goal was to tell people we were novelists," he said. "No matter how badly the work turned out, we could tell everyone we'd written novels.

"And, we wrote pretty mediocre books, but from having been conjured out of caffeine vapors of a single month's work, we were excited by how well, relatively speaking, they turned out."

Members of the fledgling writing group also learned a lot about personal creativity from their efforts.

"Everyone on the planet Earth has untapped creative ability," Baty said. "Even if we don't know what we're doing, it can still be an enriching process."

The write-a-novel-in-30-days concept caught on. Last year, more than 25,000 writers participated in NaNoWriMo. As of last week, this year's entrants total more than 34,000, Baty said.

Baty's Web site, nanowrimo .org, warns writers that the result of their frenzied month of toil probably will be abysmal. But, better to set the bar too low than expect too much, he said.

"When you shoot for crap, you could get something better than you would when shooting for gold," he said.

Still, most beginning writers are paralyzed by the thought that their prose will prove to be awful, Baty said.

"That's our worst nightmare, to sit down and write and be just lousy, embarrassingly bad," he said.

NaNoWriMo's tight deadline and admonition against editing in the early stages of the manuscript gives writers permission to be that bad.

"You give yourself permission to be in a first-draft state of mind, to relax and make mistakes. By doing that, you can tap into these wonderful parts of your imagination," Baty said.

Even when their muse is in full creative swing, however, amateur authors--who by day are accountants and truck drivers, lawyers and waiters--are quickly discouraged when their work doesn't turn out to be as wonderful as the books they read, Baty said.

"They don't realize how many drafts it took for a great book to become a great book," he said. "So when, by the third paragraph, their writing is not like the great books they've been reading, they think they should stop writing, bury the book in the back yard and pretend it never happened."

There are no prizes for completing NaNoWriMo's 50,000-word goal, other than a mention on the Web site. In fact, no one even reads the hastily crafted sentences. Instead, after officials tabulate the word count on the thousands of computer disks participants send, the disks are discarded.

Even so, by midnight of Nov. 30, many who've yammered for years about penning a novel will enter the sparse fraternity of those who can say they've actually done it.

Very few of the novels that result from NaNoWriMo are of publishable quality, Baty said. So far, only two have been produced by mainstream publishers.

"Your novel won't be Michelangelo's 'David.' More like a chunky block of marble that vaguely resembles David," Baty said.

Minden developed five writing projects to choose from for the event: two ghost stories, two witch stories and a fantasy.

"I'll pick the one that works the most easily," she said.

To encourage herself and others, Minden has invited all area NaNoWriMo participants to come to her Fredericksburg home to write.

"We'll help each other make it through to the end," she said.

An end that, for Minden, is only 38,338 words away.

[MARCIA ARMSTRONG / Fredericksburg]

No comments:

Post a Comment