Thursday, October 26, 2006

Novel approach

Bowie resident Rise Sheridan-Peters plans to
attempt her sixth novel next month in a national
challenge where people sign up online and try
to write at least 50,000 words during November.
It’s said that everyone has at least one idea for a story in them, and yours might be a doozy — a tale that would, once published, rocket to the top of the national best-seller lists.

There’s only one problem: You need to write it first.

Getting down to the actual nuts and bolts of writing can be difficult, but there’s nothing like some competition to get the creative juices flowing — or at least get the words down on paper.

Next month might bring just what you needed to get the ideas going.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, began in 1999 in Oakland, Calif., when 21 people challenged themselves to write a story of at least 50,000 words during November. Six of them completed the task. Over the next six years, the challenge has grown, until last year about 59,000 people participated from countries all over the world, of which almost 10,000 won.

Winning is a relative term. It means those who reached the 50,000 goal, not any judgement on the stories they actually wrote. But in NaNoWriMo, the goal is quantity not quality, at least for the first draft. As one might hear around the forums, there’s always time to edit in December.

The word count needed is impressive — about 1,660 words per day, every day, for a month.

Nicole Lucier of University Park has been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2002.
‘‘A friend in Ann Arbor told me she was thinking of doing it,” Lucier said. ‘‘It sounded like fun, and through my friend I knew several other people who were organizing an online (because of differences in location) support and encouragement list to get us through the month.”

Lucier uses the word count to motivate herself through November. ‘‘I chatted every day with my friends online, and we used Excel spreadsheets, daily word goals, and critical point rewards at the 10,000 word marking points to keep us going,” she said of her first year. ‘‘My daily goal took me about an hour, and I would sit down with my laptop — disconnected from the Internet — and get it done.”

She’s far from the only county resident involved in NaNoWriMo. Rise Sheridan-Peters of Bowie is in her sixth year.

‘‘I tripped over it while wandering around the internet,” she said. ‘‘I’m ... always looking for new things to try, I like to write, I’d always wanted to write and finish a novel, I’m a short-attention-span poster child and deadlines motivate me ... there were a lot of reasons [to join].”

The number of people joining increases each year, inducting new NaNoWriMo freshman each November. Tiffany Mathews was one of those last year, and is going for her second attempt in 2006.

‘‘I generally plot [the story] out first,” Mathews said. ‘‘That way it’s easier to pace the story and I’m more likely to get close.”

Interacting with other people trying for the same masochistic goal seems to help a number of people.

‘‘I didn’t attend write-ins the first year,” Lucier said. ‘‘I preferred to write at home, without music or talking around me, and where people also couldn’t see my changing facial expressions as I worked out chapters, but I did attend an initial get-to-know-you meeting with other D.C. writers and a midpoint dinner hosted by our municipal liaison — where I pulled a plot point out of a hat, which got me through a lull in my own ideas — and I hosted the thank-goodness-it’s-over party at my apartment that year.”

Getting help from outside sources, whether they be a plot from a hat or a thread in one of the forums at the Web site,, is another way of keeping yourself writing through the month.

Sheridan-Peters, who has won — reached the 50,000 word mark — every year so far said, ‘‘To keep myself motivated, I volunteered to coordinate write-ins for the D.C. area. I’ve been the D.C.-area municipal liaison for years. That way, if I were to fail, I would fail very, very publicly. Avoiding public humiliation is a great spur.”

She said that in addition to that, she also talked her best friend into signing up with her their first year, in 2001, and recently her 16-year-old daughter Kendra Gresham has joined as well.

‘‘There is nothing like having a word-war with your teenager to get your competitive juices flowing,” she said.
Words wars involve two or more people seeing who can write the most words in a set amount of time.

‘‘The important thing is not to be scared by the word count,” Mathews said. ‘‘It’s good to try, even if you don’t make the final count.”

Lee Budar-Danoff of Columbia is the municipal liaison for this area. She helps organize the kick-off event, as well as keep track of write-ins and other events around the area. She said that in week one, when ideas are fresh, and in week four, when the pressure of the deadline starts to mount, motivation is not as difficult. The toughest times lie in between.

‘‘In weeks two and three, reality sets in,” she said. ‘‘Writers realize the need to continue writing every day to make that deadline of 50,000 words in thirty days. Writing is often a solitary effort, and easy to put off when there is laundry to do, dirty dishes piling up or hungry children at our knees. At this point, I recommend that writers break out of their lonely situation and participate in something social.”

That she said can range from attending a write-in to participating in the Web site forums to just reading the motivational e-mails sent to participants.

‘‘We find all kinds of ways to support or goad each other into writing: word-count challenges, bribes of food prepared by others, fears of ridicule if we don’t finish after telling family and friends of our effort, and of course keeping our eyes on the prize: being able to state, at the end of the month, that we are novelists!”
The number of National Novel Writing Month participants — and winners — has increased dramatically since its inception in 1999.
Participation numbers are approximate.
1999: 21 participants, six winners
2000: 140 participants, 29 winners
2001: 5,000 participants, about 700 winners
2002: 13,500 participants, about 2,100 winners
2003: 25,500 participants, about 3,500 winners
2004: 42,000 participants, about 6,000 winners
2005: 59,000 participants, 9,769 winners
[Jessica Loder / Gazette.Net]

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